A GROUP of cyclists are gearing up to ride more than 500km from Inverell to Newcastle to raise money for the Ronald McDonald House Charities.
It will be the 18th running of the event which aims to raise about $200,000 each year.
Ronald McDonald House Charities provide families of seriously ill or injured children with a 'home away from home' while they receive treatment in a nearby hospital.
It has become a vital service for more than 20 years and has kept families together for short and long term stays.
The nearest one is at Tamworth with the event engrained in the New England region as part of a fundraiser for the Northern NSW branch of the house.
It started out mainly as an idea for McDonald's restaurant owners and suppliers to raise money and has developed into a community event for all ages and abilities
Retired school teacher and avid cyclist Bill Cox is the only one to have been involved in every event since its inception.
The 70-year-old was there to help train the original group of riders and has stayed on with the cause close to his heart.
"A couple of years before the first ride one of my nieces lost her son to leukemia," Cox said.
"They were from Tamworth and spent about 18 months in Sydney, on and off, while he was having treatment.
"So I was certainly aware of the value of the house and the importance it gave to families to support each other while they're going through a horrible time in their life.
"I already had a passion for cycling and I raced for over 50 years; I only stopped riding competitively when I had a cardiac arrest a few years ago."
Cox has played his part in the charity ride raising over $3 million nationwide since it started.
It has deep roots in the New England region with the first event hosted in Inverell while Armidale has also been a starting point for the five-day ride.
"We found that a lot of people that use the house at John Hunter Hospital in Newcastle were from the New England region," Cox said.
"So the idea was to raise awareness in the areas where there people were from."
Cox is currently riding between 50 and 80km each day to prepare and will throw in a 100km day as the event gets closer.
"This year is a particularly tough first day where we ride from Inverell through Guyra and into Armidale," he said.
"At times it's tough, but that little struggle is nothing compared to what some of these families are going through.
"The highlight of the ride is when the families staying at the house welcome us back at the finish line.
"They have so much gratitude for what we do and most of our families are there to support us as well, so it's a great feeling."
McDonalds Northern NSW Operations Manager Clinton Smith said the The Helping Bikes initiative is is another avenue to make a donation.
"With RMHC Northern NSW's annual Ride for Sick Kids fundraiser fast approaching, we're calling on the Newcastle community to head into their local Macca's restaurant and purchase a Helping Bike."
"A $2 donation goes a long way when the community unites as one. Together, we can help RMHC continue to support seriously ill or injured children and their families from across Northern NSW."
The ride starts on September 6 while donations can be made to www.rideforsickkids.org.au.
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