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Triumphant return for cyclists

Charity bike riders complete mission.

Fundraisers taking part in the Dublin to Sunderland (D2S) Cycle Challenge returned home to a hero's welcome at the Sunderland Stadium of Light.

Members of the Dublin to Sunderland (D2S) Cycle Challenge returned home to a hero's welcome at the Sunderland Stadium of Light after cycling 380 miles in five days to raise money for the Foundation of Light.

The team of 17 riders, including former Sunderland AFC striker Marco Gabbiadini, set off from the Carlton Hotel Blanchardstown in Dublin on Wednesday 18th July, taking in some breathtaking scenery along the Irish Coast and across the dramatic Galloway Hills in Scotland, receiving encouragement from Black Cats supporters along the way.

Following the imposing stretch of Hadrian's Wall, the team were joined by past Sunderland AFC stars Michael Gray and Chris Makin at Once Brewed in Northumberland along with participants of the 'Final 50' leg of the Challenge for the triumphant journey down the North East coast to the Sunderland Stadium of Light on Sunday 22nd July.

To celebrate completing the gruelling journey, the cyclists attended a Gala Dinner in their honour to officially conclude the D2S Challenge.

"It was hard work but very enjoyable, said Gabbiadini. "We've had a great few days and everyone has worked really hard together; there's been a lot of camaraderie. It was a big test, and there were some people who haven't done this kind of thing before, me included, but after a few trepidations we're so glad we got to do the Challenge. It's been very memorable.

"I took a lot of inspiration from attending the Sir Bob Murray Graduations at the Stadium of Light last week when Sir Bob was handing out certificates to the Foundation's Family Learners. After hearing about their achievements, it really spurred me on.

"I know the important place the Foundation of Light and Sunderland AFC have in the community, so anything I can do to help them, I will."

Dublin-based Grafton Group plc, who are the number one DIY retailer and builder's merchants in Ireland sponsored the D2S event, which was conceived by cycling enthusiasts and long-term supporters of the Foundation of Light Harry and Susan Hall of Reds Hair and Beauty.

"It was hard work but a lot of fun and very rewarding," said Grafton Group plc's Chief Executive Gavin Slark, who participated in the full challenge along with several of his colleagues. "I think all the guys and the crew really enjoyed it. All the guys who were on the team were fantastic.

"I was born and brought up in Sunderland and run a business based in Dublin, so from my point of view there was a natural incentive to get involved.

"Overall the Challenge was extremely well organised and the route itself was great. We saw some beautiful scenery and there was everything from tropical sunshine to hailstorms at times. It was a good route but it was challenging.

"The work the Foundation does is superb and I think the more we do to raise money so they can carry on their good work is the best thing that can be done."

Harry Hall, owner of Reds Hair and Beauty, added: "It's a massive achievement for all involved and we've had people taking part who have never cycled before and they've done the full ride.

"The Challenge has been fantastic and we've had a great five days. The good thing about it is everyone has gelled so well and all got on with each other.

"We've been really lucky with the weather, apart from being rained on a couple of times, but that just brought the group together even more.

"We've had some great efforts in fundraising; I know the main sponsor Grafton have raised around £13,000 themselves and that's absolutely fantastic for the Foundation of Light and the people they help across the North East."

The Foundation of Light hopes to raise over £20,000 from the D2S Challenge to help fund the charity's ground-breaking and award winning sports, health, community and education programmes.

Graham Robinson, who took part in the D2S Challenge outside of his role as the Foundation of Light's Football Development Director, said: "The Challenge was tough, but really enjoyable.

We had days when it was raining but the scenery was beautiful. As the miles fly by you have conversations with people you don't really know and learn about their industry and the business they're in, which has also been fantastic. There was never really a serious side to it.

"The fundraising is a massive part of the Challenge and people across the region will see the benefit of this through the Foundation's programmes. Getting companies such as the Grafton Group and Liebherr Cranes on board was brilliant and will hopefully raise the profile of the event."

Structurally and financially independent of the football club the organisation relies on fundraising for 95% of project costs.

Readers can support the riders through Marco's Justiving page: http://www.justgiving.com/marcog1