David’s amazing 4,100 km ride for mental health

David Flynn has recently arrived back in Malta after an epic 4,100km bike ride from Sweden to Malta, to raise money for a number of mental health NGOs.

Back in February, David decided to step down as CEO of  Glitnor Group. As a non-executive director, he now has more time to spend with his family and focus on a number of personal projects. David is also an investor and independently advises companies on strategy, growth planning and commercial expansion. We asked him a few questions about this amazing feat, that has generated over £25,000 for charity.

Why did you choose mental health as the topic to raise awareness & funds? 

Mental health has always impacted my life, even as far back as high school. I remember a classmate who took his own life, and we had no idea that our bubbly, energetic friend was in such mental turmoil. As a bit of background for this ride, I made a life decision about a year ago, resigning as 24/7 CEO of a hugely successful business, transitioning to become a full-time investor, NED and Board advisor, giving me a more flexible schedule which allowed more time for family, as well as supporting and assisting other people to grow, and to build their own dreams and businesses.

As for the ride, initially I had thought of it as a holiday; I would take my time, with no time pressure, and if things didn’t work out, I could just catch a plane or a train the rest of the way. But gradually I realised that to ride just for myself would be a wasted opportunity, because I actually had the chance to help people who, perhaps like me, wanted or needed to change their outlook. By raising awareness for mental health, I could give hope to that those who are suffering, so they would reach out before it was too late.

I knew that doing the ride for charity would not only mean that I had to finish the ride myself, without planes or trains – i.e no plan B – but also that it would involve a lot of social media work during the trip to make sure the message got out. The more people I spoke with whilst making up my mind, the more people opened up about how they themselves had experienced mental health challenges at times, and spoke about the stigma around it. Some of the people I spoke with had also lost friends and family to suicide.

These conversations really helped me finally decide that I could make a difference for my friends and for my network, and for the charities that could help them and others in need, across several countries… and so, just two days before I was ready to set off, I decided to make it public, and I set up the funding pages.

What made you choose a sponsored charity bike ride as the vehicle for the campaign?

Whilst I’ve completed several charity events in the past, being a lover of cycling for many years I’ve always wanted to make a really long ride, and I thought that doing so would also enable me to take some down-time; remove myself more from day-to-day operations, and make my own transition to a Board Member and Investor. Just me and my bike; how relaxing and calming, I thought 🤣.

How did you prepare for the journey?

I started training in February with some longer rides, a small 3 day tour in Sicily in March, then 5 days in the UK over Easter, and continued to build from there. July was probably my most intense period, as I wanted to ensure I could manage the longer daily stages I would need to be able to cover the whole distance within a shorter period than I had originally intended, due to work commitments. So after a number of rides over 150km per day, covering over 1000km in July, I rested for most of August, with just one or two longer rides.

What support team did you have during the journey?

In terms of a physical support team – zip. Just myself and my bank card, which was unfortunately used quite a bit, for new wheels and a replacement bike frame. However, I have to say the support received online from friends and colleagues, and in particular from my family, was outstanding and kept me motivated for the most part.

What were the high and low points?

Well, the geological high point was over the Alps of course 😉, but there were certainly days when doubts crept in, and I started to think “What am I doing here?”. The initial 5 days were mainly wet and windy which didn’t help morale, but as I crossed into Denmark and then Germany I gradually realised that “I’m actually doing this”.

I think a point where I had serious concerns was when my back wheel broke, and there was only 1 bike shop within 50km that might perhaps have a replacement. Luckily, in the end, it worked out. As it also did a week later when my frame broke, and I had to replace that too.

The amazing challenge you have just completed must have been very taxing from a physical but also (or especially) from a mental perspective. What has that mental aspect been like, and what have you learned about yourself during this journey?

During some of the challenging days, I would often be on auto-pilot, as I call it. Long straight roads in the rain are not fun, and so I mentally switched off. It’s perhaps hard to imagine, but without that ability it could be super miserable. In terms of a mental high, I have to say it was the helpful, kind and generous people I met along the route. I was really touched by many acts of kindness – from a banana offered at a time of need, to a hotelier refusing payment for lodging.

My intrinsic learnings were many. Of most importance, I learnt that everything doesn’t have to be achieved today, and it truly is the journey that matters, and the people you meet along the way. To enjoy and appreciate the highs, there have to be lows – that’s the ride of life.

How important is it that business leaders lead by example when it comes to social issues, like mental health and environmental sustainability?

I would say it’s essential. Throughout this journey I’ve been contacted by many people, including business leaders, who have had challenges with mental health. People look to their leaders to understand how they should act in business but also in life, and so it is a duty for leaders to set by example, not only to ensure people look after themselves and provide suitable support, but also to show that they do this for themselves.

Would you do it again?

Most definitely! Probably not the exact same route, as there’s always other experiences to take in. However, doing something like this with friends would most definitely be more fun, as you really share the experiences, the highs and the lows.