Whilst most of Britain was glued to their TVs on Sunday 23 July 2013 to see the climax of the centenary Tour de France – with Brit Chris Froome winning in relaxed style on the Champs-Élysées – Les Slinn and 17 riders from his fitness centre team had a ringside view knowing the fun was matched by helping a good cause.
After Les made an appeal for groups to enter a competition in the February 2013 Swindon Link magazine, the cyclists decided to raise £5,000 to fund the cost of training a puppy for Swindon Guide Dogs. On Tuesday 4 March 2014 Les and some of the riders who made the trip met the puppy which, of course, is called Froome.
Before departing for Paris, Les said the whole team were keen to exceed their target after the death of Joy who was the companion of Alan Fletcher, chair of Swindon Guide Dogs. “She was the sweetest animal you could imagine," said Les. "Losing Joy must have been very difficult for Alan, so we’re inspired to do well by the charity.” See Joy with the team in 2013
After a four day ride from London to Paris, the group safely secured their bikes so that they could watch the first ever night time finale of the Tour and enjoy the giant party with the hundreds of thousands who turned out.
Froome is a four month old Labrador Retriever cross and has been with puppy walkers Adele and Charlotte Marshall-Reynolds from Cricklade since mid-January. "He’s doing really well," said Adele. "He’s very sociable and playful puppy; he’s learning really quickly to become a well behaved dog before he goes on to his proper training as a guide dog.
"Our role is to introduce Froome to everyday situations like walking down the street and hearing all the noises, getting onto a bus, or going to the shops. But it’s not all work; we go to different parks so he can socialise with other dogs."
Alan Fletcher said: “Swindon Guide Dogs for the Blind would like to thank Les Slinn and his AllStar team for raising money to fund Froome’s first year of training. They in fact raised £7,500 which was a magnificent total; I think Joy passing away gave them all a new purpose because I was totally lost without her."
Two year old Nutmeg came to Alan in December and she’s given him new lease of life. "Nutmeg is very calm and keen to work with me," said Alan. "And I’m starting to get a lot fitter as she’s still young and needs more exercise."
Les is delighted Froome is the product of the team’s fundraising. "We’re all really happy to meet Froome for the first time; he’s such a friendly puppy who loves the attention. We started out on the journey over a year ago when we asked via Swindon Link for groups to come forward with suggestions on how we could help.
"Sight is something the majority of us take for granted so it’s absolutely phenomenal to know that money we raised will soon help somebody without vision to lead a more independent life."
All photos by Richard Wintle of Calyx