Meningitis Now staff member Clara Wiggins

RideLondon for Florence after meningitis death

Clara Wiggins | 8th February 2020

Crossing the RideLondon finishing line, hand in hand with sister Angela, Karl Birch had only one thought in mind as the emotion of the experience hit him: his baby granddaughter Florence

Karl RideLondon fundraising event for granddaughter Florence after meningitis death

Tears running down his cheeks, Karl knew that however tough the event had been he would do it all again for the tiny baby who had died of meningitis just over a year earlier at the heartbreakingly young age of seven weeks.

Now Karl, who lives in Leeds, is encouraging others to sign up for what he described as a “fantastic day”.

Karl’s story started on 30 August 2018 when his granddaughter Florence Olivia was born. “We were the proudest grandparents alive and fell in love with her instantly,” he said.

“Life couldn’t get any better for us, a new chapter in our lives”.

Sadly that happiness would be shattered in the most cruel way just a few weeks later when, on 20 October, their daughter Abbigayle told them that Florence didn’t seem herself – she was very sleepy and not interested in feeding. They suggested taking her to hospital where staff took one look at the baby and raced her away.

Florence died later that night. 

“After we lost Florence to this terrible illness we went round our family explaining what had happened and reliving the pain and sadness,” said Karl. “As we visited my sister and got talking she told me that she had been in touch with Meningitis Now and decided to sign up for the Prudential RideLondon-Surrey 100."

“After further discussion, I said that I would sign up as well and join her in the ride and that was it, we were both signed up and it was “let the training begin”."

Back in the saddle

To get started, Karl and Angela began with a few short rides to “get back in the saddle”. But once they were in the swing of things they started to up the mileage and were soon doing 20 or 30 mile rides every other weekend. To up their miles even more they joined a club and although a chest infection set Angela back a couple of months, training carried on. Until eventually the big day of the race came. Karl described the day: 

“Alarm at 4.30 in the morning, really what were we doing? We got both bikes packed into Angela’s car and her husband dropped us both off as close as he could to the Olympic village."

“We got to our numbered pen relatively easy and had plenty of encouragement until we were off over the start line. It was fantastic cycling London’s streets with no traffic and everything was going so well: 20 mile, 30 mile, all was good then at 40 we had cycle jam, which took about an hour to get through. Then we started to get through the miles but it was all very busy, we managed to get up Leith Hill and pushed on."

“We continued on and got closer to the end when there it was: the finish line, with everyone cheering you to the end! We crossed the line hand in hand as we always said we would then the emotion of the whole experience hit us. In floods of tears we had done it for Florence!"

“To this day I still have a lump in my throat when I stop and think about Florence. I also still feel very proud of the achievement of completing RideLondon and of the money we raised for charity to try and help others."

“I would do it all again and would advise anyone that has been affected by anything like this to go for it – it really is a fantastic day and all the cycling really helps your mind."

“Plus, everyone cheering you on along the way just gives you a massive push and you really think about why you are doing this."

“Good luck to anyone who does the ride – you won’t regret it!”

To sign up, please visit our RideLondon-Surrey 100 page.

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