‘It has got a very special place in our hearts’ - Over 80 cyclists set off from Cleckheaton to London for eighth Jo Cox Way bike ride
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The ride, now into its eighth year, aims to keep Jo’s legacy alive by promoting community spirit, togetherness and the power of sport, while also supporting causes that were important to her.
The cyclists, of varying backgrounds and ages, which range from 17 to 77, were greeted with glorious sunshine at the start line at Princess Mary Athletics Stadium before pedalling their way on a mammoth journey which will end in the capital on Sunday.
“It is a very emotional day for myself and for my parents,” said Kim Leadbeater, who has followed in her sister’s footsteps serving as MP for Batley and Spen since 2021. “It is an event we are extremely proud of. It’s heartwarming for us as a family to see that even seven years after Jo was killed that people still want to do things in her name, they still want to celebrate her life and her values, and it has got a very special place in our hearts.”
Kim, who, after participating in the first stage to Horbury Bridge, will be in one of five support vehicles supporting the riders throughout the five-day route, added:
“It has just got bigger and better and it has just gone from strength to strength every year. The power of this event, for me, is huge. It is a massive part of Jo’s legacy, that we can bring people together from all different backgrounds, from all across the country, all ages, all shapes and sizes, with that shared goal of cycling those 288 miles to London.
“It’s a huge achievement. It’s a physical challenge, it’s a psychological challenge, but the camaraderie and the togetherness you get on a Jo Cox Way ride is unlike any other bike ride.
“It is everything that Jo believed in.”
The inaugural Jo Cox Way event was envisaged just weeks after her tragic death in 2016 by North Yorkshire businessman Sarfraz Mian BEM, a keen cyclist and coach, who wanted to make a “statement” after hearing the saddening news.
Eight years on, the event continues to “reinforce Jo’s message” that we have more in common than that which divides us.
Sarfraz said: “It’s fantastic, inspiring and incredible. Jo Cox and her message touched so many people and I reflected on those powerful words that she said and, after the tragedy, I felt it was important to do something and make a statement.
“The fact we’re still going eight years later, and that we’ve got so much interest from such broad parts of the UK and different communities, reinforces that Jo’s message was relevant then and that it is still absolutely relevant right now.
“It resonates powerfully with so many people.”
None more so than Jo and Kim’s proud parents, Jean and Gordon.
“This is the epitome of Jo’s words,” said Jean, watching on as the riders were preparing to embark on their epic challenge in memory of her daughter. “She’d be leading the way and she’d be so proud of Kim for doing what she’s doing.”
And while the 2023 edition of the Jo Cox Way sees people returning for another attempt - like Dewsbury’s Hanif Rehman who is back for a second successive year as part of a group leader role - the event also sees a record number of female riders participating.
“Jo would certainly have approved of the ladies taking part,” her mum said. “When she went to Parliament it was one of Jo’s aims to make it a 50-50 Parliament. Were she here today she’d be saying, ‘That’s good, but let’s get more for next year!’
“We have got 80 people from different backgrounds, ethnicities, gender and ages all coming together. It is like our own little community. All brought together in cycling. Everyone is helped along the way.”
Gordon added: “It’s incredible. There’s far more women than before, there’s people meeting up for the third, fourth year and new people being made very welcome. Some are apprehensive but they will be well looked after.”
Former Upper Batley High School head boy Yaseen Fadal, at 17, is the youngest cyclist taking part in the challenge. He attended the school, home of the Jo Cox Conference Centre, when its chair of governors, Alastair Megahy, a member of Ravensthorpe Cycling Club who had previously taken part in the charity ride, sadly passed away in May 2022, at the age of 64.
Yaseen is further inspired and motivated after his father, Jav, a friend of Alastair’s who completed the challenge in 2021, was diagnosed with mouth cancer. He is now recovering.
“I am doing it in Alastair’s memory, and of course, Jo Cox, and I’m doing it for my Dad, for him to be proud of me, and for my mum, Tasneem, and my family,” the former pupil said. “My Dad is an inspiration, not just for me but to so many other people. I have heard so many good things about him and to have a Dad like him is something so special. I love him.
“I am so grateful to Batley Boys (Upper Batley High School). Originally, I wasn’t even meant to go there but I am so glad I did and glad I was able to provide an impact there too, being the head boy. They gave me so many opportunities. It is such a great school.”
On joining up with his fellow riders, he added: “It’s a really good network here; the support, the organisers - it is just one big family. I have got to make the most of it and I will make new friends here.
“Nothing’s impossible. You can do anything. We have far more in common than which divides us, as Jo Cox said. That is the best message I can probably give, that is what it is about.”
Jav proudly said of his son: “He means a lot. I’m glad he’s cycling and that my journey has inspired him because I haven’t told him to do it. It’s his own thoughts and own aspirations.”
Members of Ravensthorpe Cycling Club were in attendance on the track at the Bradford Road venue but, as a whole group, were not officially taking part in the ride.
“He is never far from our thoughts,” revealed member David Hiley in deep respect of the late Alastair Megahy. “He is a sad loss and he was keen to do this ride for the short time he was around at the same time as this ride.
“We will be thinking about him today.”
Mayor of Kirklees, Cahal Burke, was also present supporting the event, having been elected into his new role in May.
“It’s a fantastic event that’s carried on getting bigger and bigger,” he said. “Lovely weather, lovely people and it’s bringing everybody together.
“I remember the day she (Jo) got elected. What’s happened after that - bringing people together, from different communities, different backgrounds - has been fantastic and amazing and the legacy will live on forever and with Kim and all she does. Her legacy lives on, not just in her constituency but all across Kirklees and all across the country as well.
“It is absolutely brilliant. I admire everybody who is involved in this - all the volunteers and everybody who has helped put the event together.”
Thanking Sarfraz for helping Jo’s legacy to be continued, Kim said:
“It’s seven years since Jo was killed and it’s difficult to remember the impact her murder had on so many people and Sarfraz is a real clear example of that. He felt that Jo’s murder wasn’t something that this country is about and that we’re better than that.
“It’s difficult sometimes to remember but there are far many more good people in the world than bad and we need to celebrate that and we need to remember that. By him setting the bike ride up in 2016 he created something extremely powerful and he has shown the impact of the values that Jo lived by, not just in this country, but actually around the world.
“We need to hang onto those values because we need them more than ever. That’s where things like the bike ride are so important.”
Revealing what it will be like for the riders when they eventually cross that finish line on Sunday evening, Kim admitted: “By the end of this ride these guys will be exhausted but they will also be exhilarated. That’s the feeling that you hang on to.
“There are some very, very steep hills on this ride. It’s challenging but the sense of achievement and the sense of camaraderie when you’ve done it is just huge and makes you forget about your sore thighs or aching bum!”