WHEN 12-year-old Josh Teasdale set off on a 26-mile bike ride with his dad in 2006, little did he know it would steer his life in a new direction.

Tackling the Big Butterwick Bike Ride over a marathon distance, while raising money for Butterwick Hospice, was quite a challenge for a boy of such tender years.

But the joy of being out in the fresh air, the camaraderie of the fellow cyclists as they pedalled through Stockton, plus the “delicious” buffet at the end, whetted young Josh’s appetite.

Thirteen years on, he’s an established professional cyclist, based in Belgium, and earning a living from the sport he loves.

Last week, when this year’s Big Butterwick Bike Ride took place back home in Stockton, Josh’s dad was again amongst the scores of fundraisers on wheels.

And Shaun Teasdale looked back fondly to the autumn day of 2006 when his little boy found his direction in life: “Doing the Big Butterwick Bike Ride was really what got Josh started – it was easily the longest ride he’d done up to that point, but he loved it.”

Speaking from Belgium, Josh, now 25, remembers the day with fondness too: “I was riding a bike handed down by my dad, and I remember two older gentlemen, called Rob and Ray, encouraging me all the way round, and pushing me up Bishopton Mill climb.

“I was at that age where I was trying to find my path in life. I’d been doing karate but grown bored of it, and was trying five-a-side football, but, suddenly, I’d fallen in love with cycling and never looked back.”

Josh joined the Stockton Wheelers cycling club and started taking part in road races shortly afterwards. He was encouraged by winning a few League 2000 competitions and went on to secure five national titles in time trials.

In 2012, he won a scholarship from one of cycling’s governing bodies, and moved to Belgium to be part of a development team. Five years later, he turned professional, racing for Team Differdange in Luxembourg.

Josh considers the biggest achievement of his career so far to have been his 23rd place finish, out of a field of 160 elite riders, in the gruelling 11-day Tour of Portugal last summer.

Another highlight of 2018 was finishing 11th in the Chrono Des Nations in France.

“Hopefully, I’m still developing as a rider and there’s more improvement to come, but I just want to carry on as a professional cyclist for as long as possible,” said Josh.

Now riding for a team called Davo United, Josh lives in Belgium, close to the Dutch border, and is happily settled with his Flemish girlfriend Karolien.

“I suppose I have a debt to the Butterwick,” he said. “If it hadn’t been for the Big Butterwick Bike Ride, I doubt I’d have ever come to Belgium, and who knows what direction my life would have taken?”

He wasn’t able to return home for this year’s hospice event, but tries to make it whenever possible, and intends to be back next year.

“It’s such a special event, for such a fantastic cause – and it’s always a cracking buffet at the end,” he said.

And he shouldn’t need a push up Bishopton Mill climb this time round.

CONTINUING the theme of cycling and the Butterwick Hospice, congratulations to Richmond School pupils, James Lunn, 14, his brother Andrew, 12, and their friend Marcus Weston, 14.

The boys’ admirable fundraising efforts in aid of the hospice were recognised last week when they attended the British Citizen Youth Awards at the Palace of Westminster.

The prestigious accolade was in recognition of Andrew and James cycling 300 miles, from Richmond, Surrey, to Richmond, North Yorkshire, in just five days. Meanwhile, Marcus, who has a rare genetic condition called Cardio Facio Cutaneous Syndrome, cycled 30 miles, one each day, on an adapted tricycle.

Together, they raised £4,800 for the Butterwick – a magnificent effort that’s well worth a round of applause.

STICKING with sport, evergreen grass roots sports campaigner Brian Dobinson has been in touch to ask for a plug for the 44th Darlington Sports Winners Grand Final.

The event takes place on January 29, at Darlington College, and the closing date for entries is December 14.

To keep an awards night going for 44 years is an outstanding achievement and it’s always an inspirational night

Last year’s “winner of winners” was 16-year-old Lydia Shale, who turned her attention to coaching others in a range of sports after being diagnosed with Functional Neurological Disorder.

Despite not knowing if she would be able to walk day to day, Lydia battled through her pain to help others experience the joy of sport.

Who will be this year’s winners? Nominations can be made at www.darlington.gov.uk and search for Darlington Sports Winners.

FINALLY, I was so sorry to hear of the passing of former Darlington Mayoress Carol Johnson.

If a perfect Mayoress could have been described, Carol would have been it: welcoming, always smiling, down to earth, and brimming with positivity.

My thoughts are with husband Charles and her family.

Rest in peace.