4 Dec, 10:19
Grand Slam winners Fiona Coghlan and Nora Stapelton have returned the Women's RBS 6 Nations trophy to Chief Executive John Feehan at the Six Nations offices in Dublin.
Paul Gleeson, who finished the 5,000km cycle at Bondi beach on September 24th after 46 days in the saddle, travelled across the continent from Perth in six weeks, surviving two car accidents and a bird attack, before breaking his hand and seriously damaging his knee in the process.
Paul, a former finance consultant from Castletroy in Limerick, admitted he was never more than an occasional cyclist before taking on the challenge.
A tired and sore Paul now plans to climb to the base camp of Mount Everest to raise further funds for the children's charity World Vision. Last week he told the Irish Echo he was glad his adventure was over.
"This cycle represented the biggest physical and mental challenge I have ever faced in my life. Many of my friends and family told me that I was crazy to even contemplate this. However, I was motivated by the fact that we are supporting a very needy cause and helping make a real difference to people's lives," he said.
"It was a great trip, sometimes it was really hard. It's been a great xperience but I'm glad to finish. My arse was sore and I had trouble with my knee, after I got hit by the first car it was swollen, for a couple of days I was cycling with one leg, but overall I was fairly fit and used to the cycle so I was OK."
During his original campaign, he set up World Vision stands, spoke at schools, sheared sheep and even farmed pigs in some of the most remote areas of Australia to meet potential sponsors.
Paul cycled an average of more than 100kms a day over the six-week stretch, from Perth through Kalgoorlie, Adelaide, Melbourne, Canberra and finally Sydney.
He got off to the worst possible start after leaving Melbourne in early July when the support car, being driven by Canadian backpacker Tori Holmes, broke down. The 20-year-old car gave them further trouble throughout the trip. Disaster struck again just a few days into the trip in Kalgoorlie, when Paul was struck by a car. That misadventure left him off the road for two weeks as he repaired his bicycle and recovered from the ordeal, with cuts, bruises and a very sore knee. Despite the setbacks, he continued his journey through the desert, with searing hot temperatures during the day and bitter chills on some nights.
Paul also had trouble with a flock of "mad" magpies, who continually swooped down attacking his bicycle helmet, and eventually managed to crack it.
Disaster struck again last week when Paul was again knocked down off his bike on the Princes Highway about 10kms from the finishing line. "The car hit me from behind and I went into the air. It left me with a few souvenirs, scratches to my face and a broken hand.
"It put a bit of a dampner on the last day, and it meant I was late into Bondi, but I'm fine," he said, following a full check up by doctors.
"All in all we got in about 150 sponsors and we are hoping to make it to 200. We got a lot of coverage as we passed through the country on local radio and TV stations and on the newspapers. I was also on the Ray Darcy Show in Ireland as well as on the local radio and the Limerick Leader, although I was disappointed I didn't get more coverage in Ireland.
"The average sponsorship is for about $3,000, so along with what was raised in Ireland, the cycle should generate about $500,000," he said.
Paul and two friends left Ireland in June last year and spent three months travelling and working across America before arriving in Oz last September. He said the idea to do the cycle came to him while in New Zealand.
"I was sitting in the back seat of the car reading the American cyclist, Lance Armstrong's autobiography. He has won the Tour de France for the last four years in a row and just for good measure has overcome cancer along the way.
"It is an inspirational story and as we left Queenstown, I decided that I wanted to cycle across Australia," he said and idea to do it for charity came later.
His plan now is to spend a few weeks travelling up the east coast "taking it easy" with friends before heading backpacking in South Africa in the coming months, following his Nepal adventure, and plans to go home next March.
Despite being an avid follower of rugby, he isn't going to any Irish matches however. "The timing was bad, I should have organised to have had more time in Sydney for the games," he added.
(Report courtesy of The Irish Echo - Sydney.)