Like all Farmstrong initiatives, the Fit 4 Farming Cycle Tour has been developed by farmers for farmers.
It’s the brainchild of former sheep& beef and dairy farmer Ian Handcock and his charity Fit 4 Farming. These days Ian is a super-fit dairy consultant based in Thames, married to Lisa with three children. His passions are farming and helping to improve the health of New Zealand farmers, particularly through exercise.
“Exercise helps release stress, “ says Ian. “If you’re feeling stressed, do something physical.” Over the years Ian has developed a strong interest in human behaviour and productivity. In 2013 he undertook a research project as part of the Kellogg rural leadership programme. Its focus was on the declining health and wellbeing of New Zealand farmers resulting from two factors – increased mechanisation on the farm and poor diets. Horrified by a key finding that 75% of dairy farmers are at risk of cardiovascular disease, he committed himself to improving the wellbeing of people in the industry.
“My belief is that the general farming population is heading away from work and more into office/computer work – anything with wheels and noise. By doing less, farmers are at risk of becoming less active, eating less healthily and are at risk of cardiovascular disease, therefore shortening their life span.”
Turning the theory of healthy living into action is where Fit 4 Farming comes in. The campaign is now set to expand nationally under Farmstrong, and who knows how far its reach might extend.
“My goal for Fit 4 Farming is to gain global recognition by becoming the fittest farming nation in the world,” says Ian.
Other Peloton riders include Glenda and Neil Gray. The couple are dairy farmers from the Hauraki Plains, with three children.
Glenda has always led an active life and been a keen sportswoman. A series of injuries however really slowed her down and a serious loss of fitness was the result. Cycling was her saviour, says Glenda.
“I started with short amounts of time each day on a wind trainer, building up some base fitness, then I joined a local cycle group which has been awesome. The organisers – who are now part of the Fit 4 Farming Cycle Tour committee – have done a fantastic job to help a huge amount of people enjoy cycling. I really enjoy getting off the farm and riding with a vast range of people.”
Husband Neil has been drawn into cycling by his wife’s enthusiasm for the sport. A keen rugby man and tramper, Neil has always led a very active life and the outdoors. Since his children have grown up, he has played a leading role in Land, Search and Rescue. The interest in cycling that he now shares with Linda means they can enjoy family time together away from the farm.
Kevin Hodgman is another passionate cyclist who at the age of 69 shows your never too old to be active. He’s excited to be part of the peloton and has an outstanding track record in endurance events. These days Kevin spends much of his time encouraging local cyclists to reach their goals. In 2014 his work organising cycling events in the rural Thames Hauraki area was recognised with a Sport Waikato Service to Sport medal.
Tex Stephenson and his wife Julie are legends of cycling in the Hauraki area. Tex founded the local cycle club, The Hauraki Handlebars more than 30 years ago and has had lots of involvement with the local farming community through his love of sports and his work as a site technician with the water treatment plants. After work he runs spin classes at the local gym to help farmers improve their fitness.
“Cycling is a great way to relieve stress by getting away from the farm, and to enjoy the benefits of feeling fit and healthy,” says Evan Smith, a dairy farmer from Netherton, near Paeroa. Evan is married to Natalie with two children and has enjoyed many successes in cycling events round the country. Joining the fit 4 farming cycle tour will be another milestone in his 15-year interest in cycling.
As chief executive of Valley Toyota Thames, Wayne Richards is excited to be involved in the Fit 4 Farming Cycle Tour. It’s an event that will benefit the wider farming community and draw attention to the importance of health and fitness for farmers. Wayne played rugby as a young man but it wasn’t until he signed up for a Speight’s Coast to Coast in 2013 that he raised his fitness to a new level. The rewards were great, says Wayne, so he signed up for the 2014 Speight’s Coast to Coast, this time as a two-day participant. Now it’s time to bring on a serious cycling challenge.