Rabid dogs, armed bandits and wild monkeys are not hazards that feature on the radar of most cyclists when they climb into their lycra and head out on the bike.

But for Paul Highton, the former Salford, Halifax, Oldham and Wales forward, the ride that awaits him is not your average Sunday morning cycling club run…
Highto 2016

On Monday morning, Paul will clip into his road bike outside the Olympic Stadium in London and set off on a journey that ends at the Maracanã Stadium in Rio de Janeiro, Brazil, for the opening ceremony of the 2016 Olympics on August 4.

In between, Paul and his fellow riders will cross the Channel, ride through France and over the Pyrenees into Spain before boarding a plan for Recife in Brazil to begin a 1,600-mile two-wheeled adventure along the South American coast.

Paul is one of five cyclists who will do the full 3,000-mile journey and will be joined for long stages by other riders, including ex-Leeds Rhinos and Great Britain centre Keith Senior who has signed up for the Brazilian leg.

Their amazing efforts are for two amazing causes, the Jane Tomlinson Appeal which helps children and young people with cancer across Yorkshire and the North West, and Rugby League Cares.

“It’s going to be a fantastic life-changing experience and I can’t wait,” said Paul, who is already not quite the man he was, having shed two stones in weight whilst preparing for the ride of a lifetime.

“I’m looking forward to all of it but the South American leg will be special. Some of my mates visited countries like Brazil and Argentina when we were younger but I couldn’t join them because of my rugby career.

“Brazil has been on my ‘tick list’ ever since. I just hope I’m in one piece by the time we ride across the Pyrenees to catch a plane in Portugal!”

Earlier this week, the riders met at the Jane Tomlinson Appeal HQ in Leeds for a safety briefing where the potential pitfalls hit home.

On one stretch of the journey in Brazil the route passes through dense rainforest where the cyclists have to watch out for monkeys on the road.

“We were also told to be careful when riding through some of the rural villages in Brazil because we can expect to be chased by dogs, most of which have rabies,” said Paul.

“We’ve had all sorts of inoculations and treatment before we get there: I’ve had more injections than a Russian athlete!”

Gangs of bandits are another major concern on a stretch that passes through the city of Salvador, not that Paul is unduly concerned.

“There’s a lot of planning gone into this trip, we have a great support team and will be fine,” he said. “When I was asked if I would consider doing the trip for Rugby League Cares I jumped at the chance.

“I worked with Cares when I was player welfare manager at Salford and know what a brilliant job the charity does, especially the work with current and past players.

“I’d done a bit of cycling before on things like the Coast to Coast and a charity ride from Manchester to Blackpool but the Ride To Rio is on another level.

“I thought I’d need to spend four months solid on the bike to be ready for it but sports nutrition experts OTE have put together a cracking training plan for us all.

“It was important that none of us got to the start line sick of being in the saddle so our training has been wide and varied: as well as hill sprints and long climbs on the bike I’ve walked up Helvellyn, Snowdon and Great Gable, attended spin classes, been involved in cross-fit sessions and spent time in the gym.

“It’s been a great mix: I’ve never enjoyed training this much before!”

Alongside Paul for the full ride will be Mike Tomlinson, the husband of the late charity fundraiser Jane, who 10 years ago defied the debilitating effects of aggressive cancer and a broken pelvis to complete a gruelling ride across America.

That ride proved to be the last challenge by the 43-year-old mother-of-three before she succumbed to breast cancer.

Before she died, Jane raised £1.8m for good causes and the appeal fund set up by her family has gone on to raise a further £6m for children’s and cancer charities across the UK.

“They are wonderful causes and it would be great if as many people as possible get behind us,” added Paul, who is busy finalising his preparations for the grand depart on Monday.

“My whole wardrobe has changed since I started cycling seriously: my kids just look at me in my lycra and shake their heads.

“Hopefully I’m going to make them proud of me on the Road to Rio, and have a good time and raise lots of money in the process.”

To donate £5 simply text JRTR70 £5 to 70070.

Paul will be posting regular updates of his amazing trip on the Rugby League Cares website over the next few months – hopefully none involve rabid dogs, monkeys or gun-wielding bandits.

Picture courtesy of Derek York Warrington Wolves Game Changer