If you think of koalas and spiders, chances are New Zealand is not the first place that springs to mind. But for good friends Gary “Dr Koala” Leong (at left of picture) and Glenn “Spiderman” King (middle), this year’s New Zealand Smiddy Challenge saw them take on the epic mountain passes and stunning scenery of New Zealand’s South Island.
Gary’s use of a koala in his practice as a paediatric endocrinologist and Glenn’s exploration of spider venom in his work as a medical pain researcher gave them their memorable nicknames. And unfortunately, it’s also given them a first-hand view of the terrible impact cancer can have on the lives of so many. It’s also given them the insight into the importance of fundraising for medical research, which inspired the two friends to take on the New Zealand Smiddy Challenge earlier this year.
“New Zealand is such a spectacular place to ride,” said Glenn. “It’s a beautiful ride,” Gary agreed, “from relaxing in hot springs after a day of riding to taking on some soaring climbs like Arthur’s Pass—NZ is such an incredible experience.”
It’s not just the views that blew the two riders away. “The camaraderie of the peloton, the teamwork, the raw emotion that being part of this challenge brings out … the peloton really does become like family to you,” Glenn said. “I’d never ridden in a peloton before, but everybody was helping take care of each other and it really made me a better rider as well.”
For Gary, the ride was all about the “Four P’s—the people, the places, the purpose and the pain. Riding with incredible people, through beautiful places to help raise funds for cancer research. And the pain—well riding up Arthur’s Pass was painful, but it’s a healthy pain. It’s a challenge, but it makes you so much stronger,” Gary said.
Arthur’s Pass was also a trip highlight for Glenn. “My favourite part of the Arthur’s Pass climb was how excited the whole peloton was—it wasn’t a case of just get yourself over the peak. Everyone was genuinely excited as each rider overcame the challenge and crested such a big climb,” he said.
And the two friends raised an incredible $10 000 for cancer research between them. “It really helps having family members or close friends get in there early with some good donations,” Glenn said. “Once donation amounts are there, everyone that follows is more likely to give and match those amounts.” Gary’s advice is keep it personal. “People will respond to your personal story—you’re taking on a challenging event for a great reason and people will respond to that.”
Gary and Glenn are suiting up again for Smiddy in the 2016 Noosa Smiddy Challenge, after their experience in New Zealand. “It’s a life affirming experience, it’s given me memories that will last forever,” said Glenn. “You can help lots of people while also helping yourself,” said Gary. “You take on a challenge and really improve yourself while helping take on cancer.”
“It really is an experience you’ll never forget,” said Glenn. “As long as you can get through Sharky’s singing,” he added with a smile. “Having my nickname meant I had Sharky singing “Spiderman” every time he’d pass me in the peloton. The fact he didn’t know many of the words made it even funnier.”