A 14-year-old schoolboy is to become the youngest ever competitor in a 1,000km ultra-endurance cycling race across France in honour of his little sister who has a brain tumour.
Flint Clarke will take to his bike in Lyon on 7 April, to take part in ‘The Unknown Race’, a gruelling and unpredictable contest where the first checkpoint will be given one hour before the start of the race and each further location given at each checkpoint, until 1,000km is reached at the finishing line.
He is fundraising for Tom’s Trust, a children’s brain tumour charity which supports families with mental health care, in honour of his little sister Mimi, 13, who was diagnosed with a brain tumour when she was just three and received support from the charity. He has already reached nearly £7,000 on his fundraising page, which will help five children and their families get the support they need after receiving a brain tumour diagnosis this year.
Completing the race with his dad Matthew, 47, Flint will be the only competitor who is not over 18, and the youngest person to ever take part in the difficult challenge.
Flint, who is from Bishops Stortford, Herts., where he lives with his family, including his other sisters Lisa, 12, and Penelope, four, said: “My mission is to suffer and endure, in honour of all the children who have had to do the same while living with a brain tumour.
“I am very nervous as this is going to be one of the hardest challenges I will face both physically and mentally. The completion rate for ultra events is often as low as 50 percent, they are very unpredictable. I have been doing as much training as possible, including three gym sessions a week where I ride on a sit bike. I have also been going for bike rides when possible. In the few weeks leading up to the ride I will be cramming in as much training as possible to give myself the chance of finishing the ride. We will be carrying basic survival kit, in case we find ourselves stranded at night, but we hope to find accommodation to snatch a few hours of sleep daily.
“I am doing this ride because I enjoy cycling, and this is a good opportunity to face a great challenge on the bike. I am very excited to embark on this new adventure as it will be one of the hardest rides of my life. As well as that this ride gives me a platform on which to raise money for a charity very close to my family. I am proud of the money I have raised so far and have had so much encouragement from family and friends. If I finish I will be very proud of myself as it is going to be a very tough ride. I want to raise awareness for Tom’s Trust for the help it has given our family, and will think of my sister at every difficult moment along the way.”
Mimi was diagnosed with a pilomyxoid astrocytoma brain tumour in 2013, when she was three. She endured surgery and chemotherapy to battle her tumour, but despite becoming stable, relapsed in 2017. She then had proton beam radiation in Florida. After this, Mimi was stable for a couple of years before developing a new tumour nodule in the radiated area. Chemotherapy was no longer as option, so in March 2021 this nodule was removed. She has recovered well from this surgery and the family are hopeful she stays stable, although she still needs ongoing help and support.
Mimi, who is a Young Ambassador for Tom’s Trust, has left side dystonia from her first surgery, which is a medical term for a range of movement disorder that cause muscle spasms and contractions. Mimi walks with limp and sometimes uses a wheelchair. The brave teenager has no control over her left arm, which she calls her ‘lazy arm’. She also has to take growth hormones as having cancer at such a young age affected her development, as well as medication for hypothyroidism and hydrocortisone tablets. Some recent hip pain turned out to be a condition called acetabular dysplasia, which puts excessive pressure on her hip joint.
Yvette Clarke, Mimi and Flint’s mum, 44, said: “Now she is a bit older she copes with her disabilities relatively well. Mimi is highly organised and takes all her medicine herself. We have a great rainbow pill pot which I fill for her and she does the rest. Even her injections she does herself, despite having a phobia of needles, all I have to do is remove the needle afterwards.
“She does feel excluded by her peers as they are able-bodied and emotionally more mature. Mimi is still very young for her age. But despite all Mimi’s daily challenges, she is a remarkably happy girl. She is so positive. We have always made the most of hospital visits. When she was little, she used to dress up in her best dress, we would get a baby chino and enjoy it as an outing. We still love going to Addenbrooke’s, our hospital, after nearly 10 years now.
“We are incredibly proud of Flint for taking on this huge challenge. Flint has always been a very keen cyclist and from the moment he got onto a bike at the age of three he took to it like a natural. He has done several bike tours through the mountains in the past with his dad, but to push himself even further he is keen to try unsupported ultra cycling. Flint has always been so supportive of his little sister. It makes us very proud seeing him raising money for Tom’s Trust. It is an amazing charity which has helped our family to cope for almost 10 years now. Our psychologist has especially helped Mimi with her needle phobia andcoping with MRIs and helped me with my anxiety over Mimi’s treatment stopping.”
Debs Mitchell, who co-founded Tom’s Trust after her nine-year-old son Tom died from a brain tumour in 2010, said: “We are in awe of Flint and everything he’s doing to raise money for Tom’s Trust at the age of just 14. The Clarke family have always been strong supporters of the charity and it warms our hearts to hear how much their Tom’s Trust psychologist has helped them over the years. We cannot thank Flint enough for his fundraising and wish him the best of luck for the race.”
The pair’s progress will be tracked live through GPS trackers. To donate to Flint’s fundraising page go to www.justgiving.com/fundraising/flint-clarke
To find out more about Tom’s Trust go to www.tomstrust.org.uk