The family of a Larne woman who held the 386-mile Irish “End to End” cycle record are recreating her journey on its sixtieth anniversary.
On June 27, 1955, Isabel Woods cycled from Mizen Head in Cork to Fair Head in Antrim in an impressive 23 hours and three minutes.
Isabel held this record for 52 years, until it was broken by Rose Leith in 2007.
This month, Isabel’s relatives and family friends will repeat the journey to commemorate her remarkable feat.
The 11 supporters will be split into three groups who will complete the task in 11 days, six days and four days respectively, arriving together at Fair Head on June 27.
The idea for the commemorative cycle originated at a family gathering over Christmas 2013, and Isabel’s Scottish relations also decided to join the challenge to mark the anniversary.
However, in contrast with Isabel’s expertise and intensive training, many of the current volunteers are not keen cyclists.
Isabel, who is now 86, revealed: “Some of them had very little cycling experience, to the local shops and back would have been their limit!
“To add to the challenge some are in their fifties and sixties, and a few did not even possess a bicycle.
“They also had limited time to prepare: 18 months including two winters is quite a mammoth task.
“In contrast, I was 26 years old and fit as I had won seven other records for long distance cycling which are still standing today.
“I had cycled from Enniskillen to Belfast and back, and Dublin to Belfast and back.
“However, I didn’t know if I would be able to do the 400 miles from start to finish.
“I followed my predecessors’ route which comprised a lot of bog roads, whereas today those roads have been improved.”
This month’s commemorative challenge is in aid of two cancer charities close to Isabel and her family’s hearts, The Boom Foundation and Macmillan Cancer Support.
The cyclists have already raised £2225 of the £5000 total for the charities.
“Nearly all of the cyclists in the 11-day group have had someone who Macmillan nurses have helped or have a friend who is fighting cancer, so that is the charity they wanted to support,” explained Isabel.
“I wanted to donate to The Boom Foundation, which raises funds and awareness for sarcoma cancer, as my very good friend May Farrar has been and still is fighting a very rare soft tissue cancer called angiosarcoma.
“When the surgeon operated on her she said that it was only the third time in twenty years that they had dealt with that kind of cancer. Many people aren’t aware of it.”
Despite being registered blind in 2001, Isabel was encouraged by May to write her autobiography “Wheels of Change” in 2008 and in 2010 May was the driving force behind the publication of her second book, “Re-cycled Memories: Stories that capture the spirit of cycling down the years.”
Energetic Isabel also remains fond of dancing, including tap, ballroom and set, which she says “keeps the mind sharp.”
Among the plucky group of family and friends set to embark on the 386-mile journey is Larne man David Surplus, Isabel’s nephew and managing director of the B9 energy group.
David, who is himself a keen cyclist and member of local group, Yellow Arrows, told the Times: “It’s an incredible thing that my aunt Isabel did and we felt that the best way to really appreciate how difficult a task it was and the exceptional capabilities needed was to do it ourselves.
“It’s also a really good way for our extended family to see Ireland and to get involved.”
While the prospect of cycling almost 400 miles in a week-and-a-half might seem daunting, David says that even the untrained cyclists among the 11-day group should be able to cope with 40 miles a day.
“The longer it takes, the harder the saddle situation becomes,” he laughed.
“It will be the longest journey on a bike that any of us have ever done but it’s nothing compared to Aunt Isabel’s gruelling training regime.
“On Saturdays she would have gone to Dublin on the train, had a sandwich and cycled up again.
“She was a very energetic, determined woman even though she is quite slight.”
In addition to the cyclists, David says another of Isabel’s nephews could make a “flying” visit to Fair Head on June 27.
“My brother Norman has said he is thinking of coming across for the final day although he won’t be coming in his gyrocopter!” revealed David.
“It depends on whether he is near an airport or not. I suppose we are all adventurers in our family in different ways.”
Norman is in the midst of an epic gyrocopter flight across USA.
Other members of the family taking part in the cycle challenge are Isabel’s daughter Dr Sheena Woods Potter, granddaughter Rosie Woods Potter, niece Dr Norah Crammond, grand niece Sarah Crammond, family friends Chris Foreman and Ted Connell, nephew Michael Woods, cousin Brian Blythe, second cousin Penny Bulley and Penny’s husband James Bulley.
On June 27, Isabel and her husband Peter will be eagerly awaiting the arrival of her family and friends at Fair Head before a celebration is held at Ballycastle’s Marine Hotel.
“I’m still flabbergasted that they have decided to do the cycle, but I’m proud of them,” said Isabel.
“A lot depends on attitude.”
To donate to the team’s efforts for The Boom Foundation, visit http://uk.virginmoneygiving.com/team/IsabelWoods. To donate to Macmillan Cancer Care, visit https://www.givey.com/macmillan.