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Brookside actress’s charity cycle challenge for her ‘Braveheart’ dad

1 month ago

Brookside actress’s charity cycle challenge for her ‘Braveheart’ dad

Mersey actress Paula Frances is getting back in the saddle for a 70-mile bike ride from Blackpool to Liverpool.

It will be the 10th ‘Braveheart Cycle’ event organised by the former Brookside star to raise money for Alzheimer’s Research UK.

And, just like every one before, it will be memories of her late dad Michael, after whom the fundraiser is named, that will be spurring her on throughout the challenge this June.

“Like all those cycling with me who have got, or had, loved ones living with Alzheimer’s or dementia, it’s thinking about them that keeps you going when things get tough,” she says. “I remind people why they’re doing it.

“Alzheimer’s is one of the top three end of life diseases in the world – and one of the worst funded.

“The hope is that we can help raise awareness of the condition, and money for research to help find a cure and more medication – as well as support each other and other people who are living through it.”

Dad Michael died aged 64 after being diagnosed with frontotemporal dementia in his early 50s.

“My dad was such a character, a real entrepreneur who set up gyms across the country. He was a man of many skills,” smiles Paula.

“When dad got dementia it was heartbreaking. He struggled with his speech and his memory declined and it’s tough, for the person with dementia and those around them.

“Dad lost himself, his independence, and ended up needing full time care before he died.”

The idea for the first cycle ride came after Paula took part in a different charity bike ride from York to Amsterdam in aid of Marie Curie, and another around Hadrian’s Wall for Parkinson’s Disease, about 14 years ago.

“I hadn’t ridden a bike since I was a girl before that and it was really hard, even though I’m a fitness instructor,” says Paula, 54, from Waterloo. “When I first went to train, I borrowed my daughter’s then ‘teen’ bike and went around the Marine Lake near where I live, and I’d only gone halfway round and I stopped in tears!”

A better bike and some practice later, she adds:

“I managed to complete both those rides and I thought if I could do that for them, maybe I could organised one for Alzheimer’s. The first one was in 2012 and since then with nine bike rides and two exercise marathons we’ve raised £65,267.05.

“I call it the Braveheart Cycle Ride because there was one time, when my dad was living briefly with me, when he was confused and he didn’t know who I was or where he was, and I burst into tears.

“Even though he couldn’t really speak at that point, he got up and patted me on the back and said ‘Braveheart’. It gets to me even now. It’s such an emotional time for everyone.”

Watching her dad’s decline has made Paula live her life differently. 

The mum-of-two, who still acts and has appeared in productions on TV and theatres across the region since playing Diana Corkhill in Phil Redmond’s ground-breaking drama, says: “Dad always said ‘I’m going to do this when I retire’ or ‘I’m going to do that when I retire’… and he never got to retire.

“So, while it’s a balance of course, I try to live in the moment and enjoy life now. I’d like to live until I’m 100, but who knows what might happen.”

She has pledged to support Alzheimer’s Research UK, becoming an ambassador for the charity, and continuing the cycle ride in her dad’s memory.

“There are many reasons why I do the cycle ride. There’s a human side that when someone is diagnosed with Alzheimer’s you feel so helpless. You want to do something for that person, that loved one, but there’s little you can do other than be there for them.  Raising money to fund research for a cure or better medication is something you feel you can do to make things better.

“Almost selfishly too, it helps with the grief and hurt by doing something positive. 

“And, by bringing attention to the charity, it raises awareness of that and the work it’s trying to do.”

Paula adds: “As well as being a super challenge, it’s an incredible day filled with so much fun, where friendships are formed in the midst of contributing to a worthy cause.

“Novice cyclists are encouraged to join as the pace is a good social team speed of 10mph on average. It’s on the cycle ride that conversations start. People talk about their experiences, and what they’ve done, and it is a huge support to people whose family members have, or have had, dementia.”

The cost to take part in the Braveheart Cycle on Saturday, June 22, is £50 which covers the coach journey to Blackpool, the support vehicle, and a pub style lunch.

Paula and her husband, Brian Lamb, who also takes part, pay the fee themselves: “That covers the cost of the event and then every penny raised goes to the charity.

“It’s a great day and a very special day, which is emotional and yet huge fun. We sing and we laugh. It’s one of the most important events of the year for me, and there’s often a crowd waiting to greet us when we get back to Liverpool and the finish point at the Royal Liver Building.

“People remember the special moments they shared with their loved ones, and many have the name of the person they’re doing it for, and why, written on their T-shirt so everyone can see it.

“I have it printed on my bike helmet: For my dad – Braveheart.”

Find out how you can get involved and support Alzheimer’s Research UK here.

Find all the latest Liverpool news here.



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