I had the pleasure of interviewing Rahma for the Tough Girl Podcast on 21st March! She cycled 3,500 km through 13 countries from London to Jerusalem raising money for Medical Aid for Palestinians (MAP)!
Written by Rahma Barclay
A little background:
I grew up in Norwich and went to normal mixed comprehensive schools. I was brought up Muslim after my parents met in Jerusalem and converted to the religion. We spent much of my childhood holidays in Jerusalem visiting with friends and my granny who moved there in the 70’s, and in New Jersey where my mom’s family live.
Since graduating from King’s College London I have always thought of myself as a physiotherapist who does sport.
As a child my parents always encouraged my brothers and I to have a sport, but they weren’t too bothered about which or about pushing us. They simply wanted us to keep busy and to enjoy what we did. So I went through a whole host of things like gymnastics, horse riding, netball, athletics and sprinting, tennis, badminton, sailing, swimming, cycling…the list goes on.
It wasn’t until university that I actually found a love of sport and in the form of rowing. I had watched my brother at Henley Royal Regatta a few years before, so made the decision at the fresher’s fair to sign up. Then my love for the sport and the social side of it snowballed.
After university I continued rowing in Cambridge alongside my first physio job and then moved back to London and continued.
In rowing, there’s no second place. You have to give your all if firstly, you want to make the top crew, and then subsequently to win races. I lived, ate and breathed rowing, much to the dismay of my family and I think sometimes my school friends who hadn’t really seen this side to me before.
After 8 years in the sport and after winning Henley women’s regatta and making the semi-finals of Henley Royal regatta (only to be knocked out by the GB squad), the politics of squad training got too much for me. I found it hard competing against my friends for seats and at an Elite level and I also wanted to reconnected more with my family and non-rowing friends (fondly known as NRFs) who had sadly been side lined for far too long.
At 5 foot 7 and 63kg (when in good shape), I’m hardly designed to be an elite rower! So I started making the transition to cycling…the logical progression if you live in Putney!
I’ve cycled since I was 4 years old, but to actually train on a bike was different. I had plenty of ex rowing friends and we’d go out and just rack up the miles. Century sportives started becoming my thing. I remember though doing one back home in Norwich just a week after returning from a 6 week trip around South East Asia. Needless to say I bonked big time on this ride and had to hug a friend’s wheel for the last 30 miles. I made a promise to myself to never be in that position again, and always be the strongest on a group ride.
So I continued to enjoy cycling and dabbled in triathlon. Actually I came 3rd in my only ever dorney lake Olympic distance triathlon in 2014. I basically survived the reeds, smashed the bike with the fastest time and held on in the run. That was a proud moment!
I did some open water swims too at Henley and in an “Challenge” relay again in Henley on Thames. I’ve done a few half marathons now with a fastest time of 1.44.
But yes, the real juice about me is that I just completed a self organised and almost completely self sufficient ride from London to Jerusalem. This was through 13 countries and covered just shy of 3,500km.
I came up with the idea about 2 years ago. I remember the exact moment sitting on the sofa in London watching the news about the strikes on Gaza in July 2014. I felt wretched and useless for the poor victims of this war.
Having spent a lot of my childhood in Jerusalem and on the Mount of Olives with wonderfully hospitable Palestinian families, needless to say, this part of the world holds a very dear place in my heart. So I picked up the phone and called my dad who is very active with charities and awareness groups about Palestine. I remembered he had talked about “the peace cycle” over the years. I spoke with him about my anguish and suggested that maybe I should do a peace cycle.
After a year of simply being too scared to get the ball rolling and of even doing the ride itself, in part as I didn’t know exactly what cause I wanted to support or message to put across, I travelled to Beirut to visit my brother’s family in May 2015. During this visit we were invited to one of the Palestinian refugee camps (Shatila).
After spending a lovely evening viewing photos taken by some of the children in the camp, chatting with the kids themselves and listening to music, we returned home and I googled Shatila camp.
I read about the massacres of 1982. It was heart breaking. It was through this research that I found MAP (Medical Aid for Palestinians). The charity was set up by a doctor who had been present in the camp during the 48 hour massacre on her return to the UK. This charity works for the health and dignity of Palestinians living both under occupation and as refugees. I had found my reason for riding across the continent of Europe and where any raised sponsorship would go. I was so moved in fact by what this charity does, I wept for almost a week and every time I told people what I was doing and why.
So then came the planning, the funding, the route, the PR, the website, everything. And all stuff I had never done before. Stuff that didn’t come under the heading “physiotherapist”.
It was the most daunting task, and although I managed to get some sponsors and turn a handful of heads, and even eventually raise in the region of £22,000, it was NOT easy.
Training was the easy part of course as soon as I had figured out how to combine socialising, weekends away and my commute with cycling. I completed Ride London, the tour of Cambridgeshire and the Etape Caledonia in the lead up. All of which reflected the distances I’d be doing each day, and it was reassuring to do well in each of these and even qualify for the world amateur road race grand fondo in Perth.
The Trip - London to Jerusalem
When I and 3 friends rolled out on 27th August 2016 to ride the first 120km of the 5 week journey, it was a relief!
For the first 5 days of the trip, my mom had insisted on driving with me. Now this was very sweet of her, but I still think it may have been more for her own peace of mind than mine. Frankly she conquered her own challenge of driving on the right, whilst I was just beginning mine.
From Luxembourg to Munich I was on my own, and the adventure truly began! I loved it!
Once in Munich, my friend Anna whom I know through rowing joined me and rode with me until Dubrovnik. We conquered the mountains together and for her, this really was a first. Luckily another friend met us in Salzburg (the sound of music tour sold it to her!) and she carried a suitcase so we could off load some kit with her for the Alp crossing.
Lou left us in Lubjiana and so once again we were self sufficient. In Dubrovnik and over 1,100km ridden Anna left and Tas (my life long friend whom I learnt to ride my bike with and who also spent time in Jerusalem as a child) joined me.
She was with me for 4 riding days and this only 18 months after having her first baby. What a legend to complete 500km! And once again from lake Kastoria in Greece to Athens, then Tel Aviv to Jerusalem, I was alone again.
I rolled into Jerusalem at about 5pm on 30th September to be greeted by 30 wonderful MAP cyclists who had too completed their charity ride of 6 days around the West Bank.
And that was that. Then I came home, threw myself into work and got pretty low if I’m honest. These podcasts have really been a turning point for me though.
I’ve started thinking up my next challenge/s. LEJOG, Tip to tip of NZ, the Blue Ridge Parkway from Virginia to the south of North Carolina….
To be kept up to date with Rahma and her future challenges - follow her on twitter @RahmaBarclay and visit her blog - Outspoken !
Listen to Rahma on the Tough Girl Podcast!