Rebecca Adlington was joined by Joanne Jackson, Melanie Marshall and Ross Davenport to launch the Bike for Africa Challenge earlier this week. The trip will see the group cycle 280 miles across Zambia.
The 23-year-old won gold in the 400m and 800m freestyle at the 2008 Beijing Games, as well as bronze in both events at London 2012, but after the Olympics, her next big project will be taking part in a charity bike ride.
Together with fellow swimmers Joanne Jackson, Ross Davenport, and Melanie Marshall, Adlington will be completing 450km across Zambia in October to raise money for Sport in Action – and she says she will be well out of her comfort zone.
The swimmers have had limited time to train for the bike ride, because of the Olympics, though Adlington has had some advice from one of the best cyclists in the business.
‘Chris Hoy has given me some great advice and tips,’ she said.
‘He offered to take me out cycling, sadly I couldn’t make it because of a family emergency but I’m sure he’ll give me some more tips when I see him in the coming weeks.’
Adlington admitted that time is not on their side in terms of preparation, because of the London Olympics having taken up so much of the year.
‘With the Olympics going on I’ve not been able to do any cycling, I didn’t want to fall off and get injured,’ she said.
‘It’s very different to what I’m used to, which is being in a pool, being in my own lane, with no one hitting me and no chance of falling off or injuring myself, and no cars.
‘The biggest struggle is with my confidence as I’m very wobbly and I end up falling off.
‘Bike for Africa is a great challenge and I’m really looking forward to getting out to Zambia for what I’m sure will be one of the most amazing and unforgettable experiences of my life.
‘It will be one of the toughest things I’ve ever done, but riding as part of a team with the other swimmers will definitely spur me on to the end.’
The swimmers will camp at villages along the route so there will be none of the usual home comforts like beds or showers during the four-day challenge.
Davenport said: “I think the swimming training has given us a massive advantage. Swimming is a gruelling sport and to come into something like Bike For Africa is completely different, but we do have that fitness behind us, that engine inside us, that can push us through.
“Also we’re immensely competitive and we’ve got that grit and determination, so hopefully that will get us through the challenge ahead.”
Once in Lusaka, Adlington and team will give swimming lessons to street children and children who have lost parents to AIDS, at a renovated open air pool which Marshall helped to raise funds for.
Jackson said: “I love challenges and so do the other swimmers, so it’s great that we’ve had Bike For Africa to focus on after the Olympics.
“I think it will be quite emotional to see all the children in Zambia, but it will be an amazing feeling to know we’re raising money to help make their lives better.”
Bike for Africa is the brainchild of Marshall – a world, European and Commonwealth medallist -who became an ambassador for Sport In Action when she retired from swimming after the Beijing Olympics.
The charity runs an orphanage for street children and uses sport to educate and inspire children, many of whom have lost their parents to AIDS.
British Gas, the principal partner of British Swimming, is supporting Bike for Africa.