They developed a friendship at the Invictus Games in Orlando 2016 and, despite the six thousand miles that separated them, have kept in touch ever since. That recently led to a great initiative. Briton Andrew Perrin and his American friend Zed Pitts now lead a platoon of veterans who regularly ride together via the online platform Zwift. Sometimes quietly, with their hands on the handlebars, but often also hard, at race pace. For the occasion of the Invictus Games 2020 they invite everyone, veteran or not, to go for a ride with them. Next week there will be four special online rides, and from the 24th May there will be a weekly recurring ride, especially for veterans and their friends. The motto: Bring The Hague Home!
By Edward Swier
It’s a wonderful initiative that, to be honest, probably wouldn’t have happened if it hadn’t been for Covid-19. Then it would have been, the week from 9 to 16 May to be precise, a great happening in The Hague. Over 500 veterans from 20 countries would have gathered in the Zuiderpark, with Friends & Family and thousands of other spectators, they would have played sports together for eight days. But the Invictus Games have been postponed….
However, Perrin and Pitts wanted nothing more than to unite the Invictus community. Right now. Zed: “We see it as our mission. To connect as many veterans as possible in this day and age, through cycling, through Zwift.”
Andrew: “Of course there’s nothing we’d like to do more than take a bike ride together, on the public road. But in some countries you still have to stay inside, and in most countries you’re not allowed to go out with a group of cyclists anyway. Inside, however, there are no restrictions, you can easily meet up online with a whole bunch”.
Zed: “Organizing an event is usually a logistical nightmare, in these times it’s even impossible. What’s more, it’s always a precious opportunity to have everyone from all over the world fly in. But this is just such a great idea, because you can just – without any effort – join on. From your own living room.”
The American Pitts became completely hooked on Zwift in a short time. “It took me a long time to get to know the platform, but since I have known it, I ride at least six rides a week. Not only because it’s easier than riding outdoors at the moment, but also because of the social aspect. These are confusing times for veterans, who often have mental problems as well. This is a great opportunity to talk to others, to get a push from others,” said Pitts, who in 2013 suddenly suffered severe weight loss and was affected by compound hernias in his left arm.
“It’s also,” he continues, “the ideal way for some people to stay in training anyway. Of course, a lot of sports facilities were closed to veterans during this period as well. Swift is a godsend then, but also in other cases. For example, if a veteran leaves the service after rehabilitation, the possibility to still train and make use of the facilities often lapses. It can get quite expensive, especially because of the transport, if you have to pay for it all yourself, some people have to quit their sport. You can really hitchhike from home, you don’t have to arrange facilities and hire a coach,” said Zed, who has been taking a ride with Andrew every Sunday for the past two months anyway.
Andrew Perrin has been on the bike for years. After he was diagnosed with Crohn’s Disease, he wanted to keep on cycling. In summer and winter. Perrin has been riding indoors for about five years now, on Zwift. The platform was still in its starting phase when Andrew stepped on it. “I used the beta version of Zwift in those days, especially when the weather wasn’t so good outside, or because it was already dark when I came back from work. It was actually more of a winter workout.”
A true love between Perrin, who won a total of three gold and a silver medal at the Invictus Games of London 2014 and Orlando 2016, and indoor cycling didn’t grow there initially, by the way. “It remains an alternative, of course. An alternative to something that is actually much more fun, riding outdoors. At first I also had trouble finding my bearings. I don’t like good, structured training. It wasn’t until I discovered that it was also a lot of fun to ride races at Zwift that I started to see the fun of it”.
The Covid-19 crisis really created a close bond between Perrin and Zwift. “Otherwise I would never, after the winter, crawl onto my bike. But this year, with the lockdown, there was nothing else to do. I started using Zwift, like a lot of others I think, a lot more often and I really started to appreciate it”.
Perrin also alerted his buddy Pitts – winner of bronze in the time trial at the Invictus Games in Orlando – to the existence of Zwift, just as he taught him more tricks of the trade. “When Zed and I met at the Invictus Games in Orlando, we got along right away. I was the more experienced cyclist, so I was able to show him a little bit of the way in a number of areas. He was like a sponge, sucked up all the information. Zed, if he’s passionate about something, is very interested, wants to know everything”.
The exchange of facts didn’t stop after their sporting challenge in Florida, the two kept in touch. The band became even closer after Andrew told about the Race Across America and the existence of Zwift in the podcast of Zed. “It had his immediate interest, he wanted to know all about it.”
They immediately agreed to ride the same rides on Zwift together, made use of the special possibility to pedal away with two kilometres in a meet-up. And chat a hundred times with other users of the platform. “You can communicate with each other in different ways, via apps, via Zwift’s channel. But you could even meet up with the whole group via Teams or Zoom. Then you can actually see how much the others are suffering”.
The idea of letting other veterans enjoy this too was soon born. “We train together regularly, we also ride in competitions. Although it is virtual, it still feels good, for body and mind. We would like to share that experience.”
Zed and Andrew sought contact with the Invictus Games Foundation, got cooperation from Zwift and saw their efforts rewarded. This week there are four special rides, two races and two social rides. The Invictus audience is also invited. More informatie can be found here.
“This is”, emphasizes the duo, “of course a wonderful activity to do together, especially now and certainly in the period when the Invictus Games were supposed to take place. Veterans all over the world will probably also struggle with the circumstances. It’s not easy to meet people now, the social interaction is difficult. And so it’s nice to meet each other online, while you make an effort”.
Zed and Andrew prefer to do the same with other (former) soldiers. “I always notice,” laughs Andrew, “that we all have a special sense of humour. Our jokes work best when you tell them to other soldiers.”
Schedule Zwift – ‘Bring The Hague Home!’
Monday 11 May – SOCIAL RIDE
USMES Back to Work ride (60 min social ride)
Times: 0845 EST USA / 1345 BST / 1445 Central Europe / 2245 Australia
Thursday 14 May – RACE 1
US Paracycling Time Trial Series (17.5km)
Times: 1200 EST USA / 1700 BST / 1800 Central Europe
Thursday 14 May – SOCIAL RIDE
Australian Invictus Pathways Program meet-up
Times: 0930 Australia
Saturday 16 May – RACE 2
Zwift Crit City Race (15km)
Time: 0945 BST / 1045 Central Europe / 1845 Australia / 2045 New Zealand