Chris O'Hare, 42, and his partner, Gabriella Gratrix, 45, are relaxing in the mid-February sun in a bar on the N-340 road that runs through Torrox Costa when I first meet them. Both a picture of health and sipping fresh orange juice, the only thing that gives away their story is Gabriella's hair which is just beginning to grow back after a course of chemotherapy.
The couple are staying in a converted prison van in Torrox, while preparing themselves for their five-year round-the-world bike ride, which will take them across all the continents and through some of the harshest conditions on earth. They will set off from the Nightingale Centre at the Wythenshawe Hospital, which is home to the Prevent Breast Cancer charity; the charity they will be raising money for, on 9 July and aim to finish in Madagascar some five years later.
This isn't the first international cycling tour they have ever done; in 2016 the bike-mad pair cycled through Southeast Asia between March and May and then from their home town of Blackpool through France and along the coast of Spain, taking in Malaga, in summer of the same year. They have always raised money for charities and say that their trips are “self-funded”.
Fight against cancer
This next project, however, is enormously personal for Chris and Gabriella. They have been personally affected by cancer, having lost two close friends in recent years and Gabriella was diagnosed with an aggressive form of breast cancer in spring 2017 and subsequently underwent both a double mastectomy and the removal of 18 lymph nodes from her right arm.
“We were all geared up to go back to Southeast Asia on 1 March,” recalls Chris. “We had everything arranged and then the results of Gabriella's mammogram came through,” he adds.
Gabriella's family has a history of cancer and following the loss of her close friend Patricia to breast cancer, she decided to get checked. “I was working on cruise ships and didn't have much time to make doctor's appointments,” she explains. “But Pat's death and knowing my family history made me realise that I really needed to do something about it.”
Following surgery, Gabriella had to undergo a course of chemotherapy which inevitably led to hair loss. She now has to have Herceptin injections every three weeks, for which the couple travel back to the UK. “There are days when I have felt really tired especially during the chemo but I make myself keep active,” the former professional dancer explains. She puts her recovery down to the fact that she is very active and leads a healthy life. “Apart from when I look in the mirror I feel like nothing's happened to me,” she adds.
Go and live life
Her consultant, who is a keen cyclist himself, said that there would be no problem in the couple moving to Spain and encouraged them to do the bike ride. “He told me to go and live my life,” Gabriella smiles.
While they have been in Torrox, Gabriella and Chris have had a promotional video made for the project and are in regular contact with the Prevent Breast Cancer PR department in Wythenshawe, who are organising the promotional side of the bike ride for them.
Chris and Gabriella will cycle over 100,000 kilometres and plan to do an average of 500 kilometres per week. They appear completely unperturbed about the potential challenges and even dangers of cycling through some countries and are confident that they will find help along the way.
“You always find people and cheap accommodation and we have a tent,” they assure me.