12 November 2019
| THE HEARTBEAT OF WOMEN'S SPORT

Why I cycled across America

July 22, 2011
Team-Swift-And-Bold

Louisa Bowman, part of Team Swift and Bold, tells Sportsister why she decided to cycle 3000 miles across the USA.

Team-Swift-And-BoldJune 18, 2011, saw the start of the much anticipated 30th Race Across America 2011 in Oceanside, California. After six months of hard work, planning and training, Team Swift and Bold were the rookie team ready to compete.

Team Swift and Bold were racing in memory of Maj. James Joshua Bowman who was killed in Afghanistan on July 13, 2010. Major Bowman was shot by a rogue Afghan soldier who turned on the British men who he had been working and training with. Major Bowman was killed as he slept.

In his memory, his family and friends wanted to take part in something that was challenging, fitting to James and incorporated many people close to him. RAAM seemed like the perfect tribute.

RAAM is considered to be the toughest endurance cycling race in the world. It is a one stage, non-stop race from west to east coast of the USA, covering 3000 miles. Team Swift and Bold (named after the motto of the Rifles for which James served) consisted of four cyclists and nine support crew.

The cyclists were: Louisa Bowman (sister) David Wright (half-brother) Martin Williamson (childhood friend) and Major James Cousen – Cuz (army friend and colleague). The support crew was led by Brian Wright (half brother) and was made up of various family friends, including James’ Mother, Barbara as Chief cook.

Louisa’s story

Our mission was simple – to complete the race safely as a tribute to James, and to raise as much money for James’s favoured military charites in the process. (ABF, The Soldier’s Charity, The Gurkha Welfare Trust and Care for Casualties).

When we first dreamt up Team Swift and Bold I don’t think I appreciated quite what we had taken on. Back in November 2010, with the family still trying to come to terms with what had happened, I realised we needed a challenge for us all to focus on. I have always been one for pushing myself physically, having run the New York, Paris and London marathons, but I realised that whatever we chose had to be much bigger than that. Ironically, I had looked into cycling across America several years ago, and spoke to James about it who said ‘don’t be so ridiculous’! I guess I could say I’ve proved him wrong!

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After David and I decided that a four strong team was going to be the best format, we searched for the other two riders, and then the training, crew recruitment, endless communication and spending money began.

All of us had full time jobs, but I think it’s fair to say, outside of these, every waking minute was spent preparing. David and I were amateurs to road biking, so I was in Richmond Park as much as possible during the week and cycling the Surrey hills at the weekends. There were many difficult days but the underlying reason spurring us along was our dear brother, and every time it got a bit difficult, we would just remember why we were doing this. Being immersed in RAAM helped to keep us busy and deal with the grief we face on a daily basis.

As well as the training, media interviews and preparation, we were also looking for support and funding (it costs £25k to compete).  We didn’t find a company happy to underwrite the whole lot but support from sponsors like Crewroom (who provided all of our team kit) and Chivas Brothers helped us get to the start line.

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June 14 saw the first arrivals of the team into the west coast of the states.  A chaotic three days of preparing the two support vehicles and RV that were to be home for the next week ensued, with nerves and tension rising the closer we got.  After meeting all the other teams on the Friday, we had sized up our competition. A very strong looking German team, and of course the RAAM Roses, another UK based team. We decided we would be doing well if we beat either of them.

The four of us crossed the start line at 2pm, with our trusted Baton attached to my bike. The Baton is a handle from a stretcher in Afghanistan that we would be passing from rider to rider (that’s 500 changeovers), as a message of support to all our troops – it received a lot of interest.

I was in the first shift, slightly chaotic, but all went OK and I was lucky enough to be on the bike at the end of the shift for the massive descent known as the Glass Elevator. I was blown away. Not only by the views, but literally by the crosswinds, and reaching my maximum speed of 45.1mph.

The first 24 hours was hectic, I don’t think I slept more than half an hour and from then on I was pretty tired for the whole week, catnapping wherever possible. Our racing strategy meant that the longest time you ever had off was six hrs, in which you had to get back to the RV, shower, change, eat and get to sleep. To then get up again 30 minutes before your next shift, to change again, eat again and be driven to the next changeover point.

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We got into a routine though and everything started to work like clockwork. Comms weren’t great for the first two days so we couldn’t blog and didn’t know where we were in the race, but after leapfrogging the other two teams all the way up the Rockies, we realized at the top we were in the lead. We managed to increase our lead over the next two days, and on day five RAAM started making their finishing predications. Swift and Bold were set to win the category, smashing the course record in the process.

The last day saw the Germans reduce the hour lead we had on them, and we had the most exhilarating race to the finish line, pretty unbelievable after 3000 miles. Martin put in an amazing effort at the end and reduced their five minute lead to under four, but unfortunately he ran out of road. Never before has a finish like that happened – we came in second place by a few minutes and were delighted.

RAAM was an incredible experience. For all the ups and downs, tears and tantrums, there was one underlying reason as to why we were doing it. We all agreed the best thing about the race was the huge banner we had on the back of the RV with a photo of James on it. Every time the vehicle went passed, it was a reminder as to why we were all there, and any niggles seemed insignificant.

The money raised has surpassed all our expectations – we are approaching £80,000 and donations are still coming in. Everyone has been incredibly generous.

I am so proud of what the team achieved, and also of my family. David, at the age of 47, who is now obsessed with road biking (and very good at it), my mother for living in the cramped conditions and providing the most wonderful food for 13 people, Brian for being the best Crew Chief and keeping the team motivated, sane and happy and Dad for being our support back in the UK. But most of all, of course, James.

Louisa Bowman, Sportsister
The Women’s Sports Magazine

If you would like to donate money, please visit: www.teamswiftandbold.com where you can also read all about the story on the blog and see all the photos.

Image credit: Thomas Davies Photography

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