My name is Ian Stirling, and I was born and raised in Lancaster. After leaving school I started a YTS (Youth Training Scheme) course in vehicle maintenance. After 2 years, I left the course of my own volition and had a few months of temporary jobs. Then I signed up to join the Army on February 14th,1994. Having passed all the medicals, I waited for basic training to start. Complications from existing health issues (asthma) and the amalgamation of so many regiments led to my time in the Army being cut short, and I was medically discharged on April 16th 1996. I had originally signed up for a lifetime career and had aspirations of working towards SAS training.
After being discharged, I worked for several years in various factories and even worked in care homes. I moved from the area to live with my partner in South Shields in 2005 but still have family and friends in the Lancaster and Morecambe area.
At the age of 37, nine years ago, I was diagnosed with significant blood clots on both lungs, and I was lucky to survive. Having learnt of a family history of this, I am now on blood thinners for life. As a result, I decided to give up smoking and like many others, gained weight. During 2016 I had 4 months off work as I couldn’t breathe and as a result couldn’t speak. I ended up being prescribed with medication for COPD (Chronic Obstructive Pulmonary Disease (Emphysema). In May 2017 I decided to take action to lose weight and get fitter. I took up cycling again and I have a great route along the coastal paths between South Shields and Sunderland. By the end of that year, I had covered nearly 2000 miles and lost 3 ½ stones in weight.
In September 2017, a notice came through Facebook about the Big Battlefield Bike Ride the following year in support of Help for Heroes. When I saw this, it grabbed my attention and, fuelled by my interest in the World Wars, I was determined to take part. I could raise valuable funds for a charity who do some wonderful work with our veterans. I was determined to complete the 357 miles in 5 days through the battlefields of the Great War, as 2018 marked the centenary of the guns falling silent – which made it all the more poignant. The route took us from the Glade of the Armistice where the treaty was signed on the two railway carriages through the Somme, Thiepval and Vimy Ridge, a few of the places along the way, ending our journey in Mons for a ceremony at Saint-Symphorien cemetery.
When I signed up for that first BBBR, I admit it was for selfish reasons: to challenge myself after the health issues I had. By the end of BBBR18, I met some awesome people who have since become lifelong friends and some amazing beneficiaries of the charity, which inspired me to register as a H4H Volunteer and I try to fundraise to support these people as much as possible. Seeing where the money can help is a great incentive.
For many years, I felt disappointed and ashamed that I had not served for longer or seen active service, and so very rarely mentioned that part of my life in any detail. After speaking to veterans on BBBR18, they made me realise that I had signed my oath of allegiance same as them, and therefore had made the same promise to serve Queen and country, and they reassured me that I am indeed a veteran and can be proud of the fact. Speaking to many veterans and beneficiaries, many who are now friends, I discovered we are all from similar backgrounds – with various issues – but we unite for banter, cycling and beer!
The past 18 months have been difficult for everyone – in particular, charities reliant on public donations and the people they support. I pledge to do my best to raise as much as I can in future. Like many other volunteers, I have suffered during the last 18 months not only the social restrictions of the pandemic and having to shield due to ongoing health conditions, but also the inability to fundraise and get the satisfaction of helping others.
Since those early days in 2017, I have cycled over 30,000 miles – on the bike trainer, either in the garage or in many supermarkets while fundraising, or indeed outside on various routes.
I have completed various other bike rides in aid of other charities, notably Royal British Legion Northern 100, Prudential London 100 in aid of Diabetes UK, and the Great North Bike Ride in 2019 in aid of a local cancer charity.