HUNDREDS of people packed out the grounds of Passmores Academy on Monday to cheer on students and teachers as they completed an epic five-day endurance challenge.
The Lupus Five team overcame fatigue, injury and a few wrong turns along the way to finish their incredible 320-mile fundraiser and raise more than £14,000 for charities supporting people suffering from the auto-immune condition.
The group of Passmores staff and pupils took it in turns to undertake cycling, rowing and running relay stints alongside challenge organiser and student engagement teacher Jules Ruddick (40) as he took on the 240-mile bike ride, 21-mile row up the River Thames and two back-to-back marathons.
Mr Ruddick, who suffers from Lupus and only went into remission a year ago, said it was “mind blowing” to have gone from being advised by doctors to take early retirement due to poor health in 2011 to completing the mammoth challenge.
“It has been absolutely mental,” he told the Star. “The kids were just awesome. None of them have ever done anything like this before in their lives but they just nailed it.
“When you think that 70 per cent of them don’t even own a bike and many aren’t that sporty, their achievement is incredible. They were presented with an opportunity and fully embraced it.”
Starting at Alder Hey Children’s Hospital in Liverpool, the group cycled to Leicester on the first day. The next morning they continued on to St Thomas’s Hospital in Westminster. They then joined the Great River Race up the Thames on day three and were back on dry land for day four, running from Twickenham to Waltham Abbey before finishing in Harlow.
Mr Ruddick, who sustained a serious knee injury just a few weeks before the fundraiser was due to start, said one one of the hardest parts was hiding the pain from team-mates.
“I have never felt pain like it and yet it was so important to stay strong for the kids,” he said. “I had problems with my knees, my back and my ankle and yet I was blessed to have such an incredible medical team. I have to say a big thank you to Mike Varney and his colleagues as without them I would never have got through it all.
“The other hardest part was seeing the kids in distress. There were tears on the way and times when they didn’t think they could do it, but everyone pulled through. I couldn’t be prouder.”
A big lift in the final days came when Mr Ruddick was surprised by a group of colleagues who had been secretly training to join him.
“My body was in pieces but it was such a lift to have other teachers, as well as the kids running alongside me,” he said. “That final hour as we came into Harlow was amazing. More teachers, parents and students joined us for the last bit, whilst members of the public were cheering and people were tooting their horns.
“The whole school then came out to cheer us across the finish line. It was a feeling I’ll never forget.”
He added: “Although this project was about raising awareness and money for Lupus research, it also developed into a vehicle that allowed staff and students to step outside their comfort zone and conquer their demons.
“We all pulled together to show how team work, perseverance and determination can pay off.”
Passmores headteacher Vic Goddard said he “couldn’t be prouder” of his school.
“What they have achieved over these last few months, and particularly this last week, is unbelievable,” he said. “The incredible hard work of staff gave our students this opportunity to do something life changing that they will proudly look back on forever.”
He added: “What Jules has achieved is just amazing. Although he is a lunatic he is an inspirational lunatic who we are privileged to have at Passmores.”