Group will ride a thousand miles to fight epilepsy

Copenhagen resident Nathaniel Farrell has set out to cycle the distance between Copenhagen and his home town in England, to spread awareness of an illness that claimed his teenage sister’s life

Nathaniel “Tan” Farrell, a 30-year old cook at the Copenhagen Hilton hotel has embarked on an atypical journey: he, along with his father Kevin, 53, and brothers Sebastian, 28, and Alex, 26, will cycle the thousand miles (1,609km) separating Copenhagen from the family home in Warrington, North England, in 14 days.

The family have branded this adventure ‘Bringing Home the Bacon’, a typical English phrase used when one succeeds in a particular endeavour and chosen.

Their motivation is just as atypical. The family aims to raise £10,000 (95,368 kroner) for Epilepsy Action, a British charity aiming at making people more aware of the often misunderstood neurological disorder.

Farrell and his family have seen first-hand what this chronic illness can do. Nathaniel's younger sister, Felicity “Fliss” Farrell, passed away in 2008 at the age of 15, succumbing to night-time seizures, a phenomenon described as sudden unexpected death in epilepsy (SUDEP). Her shocked family was powerless when they found her the next morning.

This tragic event inspired Tan to take on this challenge. In the meantime, he moved to Copenhagen in 2009 to join his Danish girlfriend, Regitze, still feeling it was necessary to act to honour his sibling’s memory.

After brainstorming for a year, he saw the distance separating the Danish capital from his home town as an opportunity to spread the word of his sister’s condition and fate.

“They don’t tell you that you can die from epilepsy,” Tan explained, at a reception thrown in his honour at Copenhagen Hilton today.

“Victims of SUDEP are usually quite young and medical staff don’t want to scare the parents. If we could prevent one family from going through the same thing, [the entire project] would be a success,” he said.

Tan has knitted the project together over an entire year. He has also spent significant time training physically since, he confessed, he was not particularly fond of cycling before. His first test run a year ago consisted of nine miles; those were “the hardest nine miles in my life”, he recalled.

Yet this is not just Nathaniel's initiative. His entire family is backing him up. “It’s amazing that we can pull together as a family,” reckons Regitze.

While Tan and his father will bike the entire distance, his brothers and his girlfriend will follow along in a minivan. Brother Sebastian also hopes to ride along some 500 miles (804km), though he regrets not having had “as much training as Tan”.

Others, however, cannot help but feel somewhat nervous in the face of the difficulties to come. “It’s going to be nerve-wracking,” said Kevin Farrell, “putting six people in a minibus is not always a good idea,” he joked.

The Farrells also benefited from the support of Tan’s employer, the Hilton Hotel chains. As the group circumnavigates the North Sea, they will be granted free accommodation in several hotels belonging to the chain.

The Copenhagen Hilton has also pledged to give £1 (9 kroner) for every mile the family completes.

Nathaniel received further encouragements from the British ambassador to Denmark, Nick Archer. During a speech at Nathaniel’s reception, he vowed to spread his story “as wide as possible among [his] countrymen in Denmark”.

“This will be a victory lap, asserting British supremacy in cycling,” Archer said jokingly, referring to the recent victory at the Tour de France by British cyclist Bradley Wiggins – the first Briton to ever do so.

Following the reception, the Farrells embarked on their long journey, wearing pink jerseys, strikingly similar to those traditionally worn by the leaders of the Giro D’Italia race. Their route shall be no less epic. On their way to Warrington, the family will cross as many as six countries – Denmark, Germany, the Netherlands, Belgium, France and the UK.

“It’s going to be difficult to cycle in the UK,” said Tan, “there isn’t the same biking culture as there is here and there are no biking lanes. Besides, the [London] Olympics have forced us to drastically change our itinerary, but we’ll still go through London.”

In order to raise money, Tan and his family will be updating their progress on the internet, encouraging potential donors to help their cause and give what they can spare to an online platform. All the proceeds will be sent to Epilepsy Action.

As of today, donors have given the cause a sum close to £5,500 (52,452 kroner), more than halfway to the final target. All donations are welcome on this link.

According to figures by Epilepsy Bereaved, another British charity, epilepsy claimed the lives of over 15.000 people in the UK between 1995 and 2011, making its toll in the country bigger than those of HIVAids and cot death combined.

The Copenhagen Post will be following Team Farrell and will post daily updates on our website over the next fortnight.