For wounded soldier Julie Hopkin the chance to volunteer at the Tour de Yorkshire for Help for Heroes is a ‘dream come true’ as the charity supported her out of a wheelchair and onto a bike which she’s now pedalled more than 4,500 miles.
The veteran triathlete will be swapping handlebars for a steering wheel when she drives a Help for Heroes car travelling in convoy, known as a caravan, ahead of the elite cyclists at each stage of the world class sporting event.
She’s urging others to spare a couple of hours by volunteering to raise vital funds for the Tour de Yorkshire’s official charity partner, whilst soaking up the atmosphere along the route.
“This is a dream come true. Cycling has helped give me my life back so playing a small part in the Tour de Yorkshire by volunteering for Help for Heroes is massive,” said the 51-year-old from Hull who has rheumatoid arthritis and PTSD.
“The cyclists will be riding the same roads and climbing the same hills as I do which is so inspiring. The Tour de Yorkshire isn’t only a celebration of cycling but also of determination and the physical and mental power of sport which have been vital in my recovery. It’s a magical event to be a part of.”
“Being able to help out also makes me feel useful again and gives me a sense of purpose, as well as that sense of camaraderie which I’ve missed since leaving the army.
“Money raised over the four days by Help for Heroes will go to give amazing opportunities to people like me – it’s the volunteers who’ll be holding collection tins along the route that I’ll be cheering, as well as the cyclists – without them I wouldn’t be here.”
Julie served with the Royal Logistics Corps in the military stores, organising the import and export of supplies for 10 years, during which time she was deployed to Bosnia six times, the Oman and Afghanistan. In 2003, she was medically discharged with what, at the time, was termed ‘adjustment disorder’ but which, two years later, was re-diagnosed as PTSD that then triggered the onset of rheumatoid arthritis.
For a decade Julie was told not to exercise as it would exacerbate her condition so she resigned herself to never being active again and was often dependent on a wheelchair.
Her life changed when she visited Help for Heroes’ northern recovery centre, Phoenix House in Catterick, North Yorkshire, which supports veterans and wounded, injured and sick Serving military and their families.
She was introduced to its Sports Recovery team who were determined to help her exercise and just six months after sitting in a recumbent bike for the first time she signed up for a 260-mile cycle ride.
Since then Julie has taken part in the Cotswolds Triathlon four times and developed a taste for winter sports, through the Canadian military activity programme, Soldier On.
David Routledge, Volunteer Co-ordinator East at Help for Heroes, added: “We need an army of volunteers out collecting vital funds to help give our heroes one less battle to fight.
“We would love to see people there helping us raise as much as possible while enjoying watching what is set to be a weekend of epic racing.”
To sign up as a Help for Heroes volunteer at Tour de Yorkshire and get a free t-shirt, visit /give-support/volunteer/tour-de-yorkshire/