How did you first become involved with Home-Start Aberdeen?
I first became aware of Home-Start Aberdeen in February 2017 when I met up with Gette for an evening with friends (our children had gone to school together). We were about to move back here, having lived in Aberdeen from 1988 to 2011 before moving to Singapore and Istanbul. I knew that I would be looking for something to occupy my time when I moved back and was keen to continue working in the charity sector.
What resonated with you about the charity’s work?
My previous charity work had involved organisations targeting absolute poverty (Cambodia) and refugees (Istanbul). Having been part of the "oil-set" when I had previous lived in Aberdeen I was completely blinkered and unaware of the poverty, and health and mental issues that were prevalent in my own adopted city. Both my daughters were born in Aberdeen in the early 90s and I was lucky enough to be able to continue a career, send them to nursery and surround them with friends.
Where I did suffer was being so far away from my family in Wales and feeling isolated and overwhelmed when my husband was working offshore for several weeks at a time. I felt under-confident as a mum but had to put on a brave face to the rest of the world. The type of support that Home-Start offers would have suited me at that time.
So, to be able to work with a charity that offered help to families of small children - whatever their circumstances - really resonated with me. I felt I could draw on my own personal experiences as a young inexperienced parent, combined with my understanding of the charity sector from my time abroad.
I personally support a family in Aberdeen - primarily the mum and one-year-old son. I spend about two hours per week with them. Sometimes we just have coffee and a chat, other times we go for walks around the shops or go to the park. We just chat and exchange child rearing experiences. I know that this seemingly simple act has really helped mum, and I look forward to seeing her and their lovely little boy each week.
Why did you choose Ride the North as a fundraising activity?
Having taken up road cycling when I lived in Singapore I was used to heat, humidity, flat roads and the same familiar sights. When I started riding in Scotland in 2017 I found the complete opposite - cold, very hilly and mind-blowing scenery. I was hooked immediately.
Ride the North is a great challenge as it is over two consecutive days (getting back on that bike on day two isn't going to be easy). It is at the end of the Summer which gives me chance to train properly. Added to that, the scenery is going to be fantastic and I've heard it's very well organised and a lot of fun.
What does your training schedule involve?
At the time of writing (with around six weeks to go), I would try to get out on my bike about three times per week for two short rides (30-40 miles) and one long one (60-70 miles). Earlier on in the season I trained on the spin bikes in the gym - but I must admit that I find the gym very tedious and I find any excuse not to go! Over the next month I will ensure I go out on longer rides for two days in a row so that I am prepared for that difficult start to day two on Ride the North. I also find that rest periods are good - a few days of letting the muscles heal works wonders.
What are you enjoying most about the training?
With a Summer like we're having just now what's not to enjoy? Cycling around Aberdeenshire has been pure joy. It's been mesmerising watching the landscape change from the cold crisp Winter days, to the green of Spring and the full-on colours of Summer. I also love the camaraderie of riding with others. I do a lot of my training with my husband but I also cycle with a local ladies group (the Velodees) - they are great fun and very supportive of each other.
What do I enjoy least? Easy! HILLS!!! I find hill climbing very difficult - perhaps because I enjoy my food and beer too much - but I am getting better and actually enjoy the achievement of getting to the top without stopping. There are many well-known cycling hills in Aberdeenshire and I'm slowly ticking them off. I'm even going to Applecross soon with my husband to tackle the infamous Bealach na Bà. If I can achieve that then I'm ready for Ride the North.
Have you participated in Ride the North – or any other cycling events – previously?
I have been lucky enough to have cycled in several events in Indonesia and Cambodia. The most difficult one was 700 miles in seven days around Cambodia, on mountain bikes. That was a real test of mindset and endurance but great fun. We were raising funds for a women's hospital in the country. When we cycled through the local villages and understood their living conditions, my self-inflicted pain on a bike for seven days paled into insignificance. I was just pleased to be able to raise much-needed funds and awareness.
How are you feeling about the weekend itself in August?
I am really looking forward to the Ride the North weekend. I have a fairly quiet social schedule in August and am hoping to fully commit to a training schedule. We know quite a few people doing the ride so I'm hoping for a few fun days on the bike - just keeping my fingers crossed for decent weather.
Any other thoughts?
I find it very easy to get involved with physical challenges but I appreciate that it's not that easy for others due to health or time constraints. But we all have the capacity to help those in need. So please, dig deep and sponsor me (or other members of the Home-Start Aberdeen Ride the North cycling team). You will be supporting a very worthwhile cause and providing funds to help young families in Aberdeen.
Karen Yarnold is a volunteer with Home-Start Aberdeen. She will take part in the Ride the North challenge cycle from 25-26 August, completing around 170 miles of cycling over two days. To find out more, or to make a donation, please click here.