In this edition of The Fix, we talk to our friend Sarah Stevenson of Action Medical Research, the brains and limitless energy behind the annual Champions of Cyclesport fundraising dinner. This fantastic event, held each year at The Hurlingham Club, is a great finale of the cycling season and is attended by the great and good of the cycling world. The Quella gang have got to know Sarah over the last 5 years and support the event each year by donating a one-off, custom bike for the charity auction. Sarah is a keen and strong cyclist herself and we have also had the pleasure of joining her when she swaps her sequined dress for her lycra and gets on her bike in support of her charity.
The Fix: Sarah, great to see you again, and congratulations on getting the Champs dinner back in our calendars in November after the enforced Covid break – how’s it all been for AMR during the pandemic?
Sarah: We are so happy to be back with our events after 12 months off and last year was in fact hugely successful for us, I think because folk were so desperate to get back out and do stuff! 2020 for Action like so many charities was pretty dire with a third of our income literally lost overnight. We are reliant on so many events, it was catastrophic in the early days. But, the greatest thing about this charity is that our work is multi-focussed so we can in fact research into a new disease when it hits humankind. As a result, in the first year of the pandemic we were able to raise funds to carry out research into 5 projects looking at Covid and children as so much was (and is still) unknown. This really helped with our dialogue with our amazing supporters. In 2021, as soon as bike rides and events were back the pent up demand meant each one either hit or smashed its target as people were super generous. The Champions dinner, for example, made £250,000!
The Fix: It was a fab night, well done! I was sat next to one of my cycling heroes, Danny McCaskill, at the event and there were stars from the sport everywhere you looked, how do you manage to convince these busy people to give up their time for you?
Sarah: Definitely, In our first year back in 2010, we had 3 champions and now each year we get around 20. They all give their time, and also prizes, for free and they all come back which is amazing! I think they come back because the event is so good – its high profile but also intimate. The venue is always special, and we treat them like royalty to make sure they have a good time with us. Danny was with us for the first time so definitely hoping he will come back again this year. It was awesome to have the Hayter’s too, as well as the legend that is Sean Kelly! Also, we are seeing a few more women riders attending like Katie Archibald and Pfeiffer Georgi, it’s so important to showcase these incredible sportspeople and we are proud that Action can do it like whilst raising money and awareness for our work. The charity itself has been arranging cycling events for over 30 years so we have a real heritage on the bike. I think this is the key to the success of the dinner as we have such a strong foothold in the industry.
The Fix: On serious note, we should ask you to explain what Action Medical Research do?
Sarah: Action has basically been saving and changing children’s lives through medical research for over 70 years. We were instrumental in the development of the polio vaccine way back when we started, we developed the first ever hip joint replacement, the rubella vaccine, the link between taking folic acid and preventing spina bifida, ultrasound technology in medicine so any parent who has seen their baby on the scan for the first time – that was Action, as well as cooling cap therapy for prem babies, incredible new treatments for epilepsy and many many more breakthroughs. Right now, we fund around 65 projects into areas like premature birth, rare diseases, childhood cancers and disabling conditions in kids like asthma, Hunters Syndrome, Duchenne and lots more. You can see our latest video about one of the rare diseases we fund here.
The Fix: The event is always packed full, and the auction seems to attract amazing bids. Do you know how much you have raised for Action Medical Research over the years?
Sarah: Yes, it all adds up and we are proud to have raised over £1.6m through the dinner in the 11 years it has been running.
The Fix: Amazing work – no wonder you are always in a rush when I see you!!
Sarah: Ha, ha – As you know, I don’t stand still for long BUT, I am a small part of this machine and none of it would happen without my incredible teammates at Action and the tireless volunteers who help year after year. I must almost say a huge ‘thank you’ to all of our sponsors, some like Garmin and BDO who have been with us for almost half that time.We are always looking for new partners however and this year since we are back at Battersea, the pressure is on to sell more tables than previous years, so we are looking for Quella customers to join us at the event. I will be offering any Quella customer a 10% discount on any price table for this year’s Champions Dinner. www.action.org.uk/champions It takes place on Thursday 24 November from 6pm and I can promise this year will be the best yet!
The Fix: That is amazing and much appreciated! In 2019,the custom bike we donated attracted a bid of over £2,000, I think this is probably a record for a Quella, has there been any items that exceeded your expectations and attracted crazy bids?
Sarah: We are really lucky in that we have around 100 items donated for the night and many of these, like the fabulous Quella bike, sell for a good
price. I remember many moons ago we sold a Team Sky bike for £13,000 but more recently we have always achieved a high sum for the Passoni frame which always achieves five figures. I think last year we also sold a logo on a boat that would be rowed across the Atlantic Ocean for Action and that made £12k! People are really very generous and it’s that kindness that funds our work.
The Fix: That is brilliant!! How did the Champion’s Dinner come about? Were you always a cyclist?
Sarah: Action has a long history in cycling, and in fact I borrowed someone’s bike back in 2004 when they needed someone to help staff our 750 strong London to Paris Bike Ride and it was then I fell in love with the bike! I promptly came back, bought myself a Boardman bike and the rest is history. My job means I get to ride all through the year on events which means I have to keep riding and most of my network is into the bike. I also love watching bike racing – not just the Grand Tours but the classics, day races, cyclocross, and track! So in the mid 2000’s we had a lot of riders doing our events and decided to engage them at the end of the year which is where the Champs Dinner was born – an end of season black tie celebration of cycling to appeal to our many corporate and industry friends. In our first year we saw 200 guests and this year we hope to see 700 which shows you how it has grown!
The Fix: Where is your favourite place to cycle and why?
Sarah: I have cycled in so many beautiful places around the world, mostly because of my job so I find this a tough question. I have also worked as a tour guide and bus driver on a cycling trip around the Cape and Winelands in South Africa. Just last week I was in Majorca for the first time since the pandemic for some sunshine and cycling and was reminded how much I love it there. However, my favourite place would have to be France. I love the quiet roads, the scenery, the culture (who said the wine and cheese?!) and also the fact that it is on our doorstep! My next trip will be to Tenerife to cycle Mount Teide which I have never done before so I will report back!
The Fix: What does the future hold? Is there anything coming up that you would like to share with our Fix readers
Sarah: The year ahead looks busy with lots of bike rides. We would love to see Fix riders attend some of our RIDE SERIES events – we have added gravel to our events so you can come and get dirty at the weekend if you like a gravel ride. We have launched a new ride in the Chilterns too – a season opener in April so come and join us at that maybe?
The Fix: Finally, do we have details yet for this year’s dinner? How is the line-up looking?
Sarah: Yes yes! Thursday 24 November at Evolution, Battersea and tables are on sale now! www.action.org.uk/champions – and sure we will be seeing a Quella Bike up for grabs once more?
This Fix: Yes for sure, we can confirm in front of The Fix readers that there will be a special Quella on the auction list! Thanks so much for your time Sarah, it has been great to chat – keep up the amazing work!
For more information about Action Medical Research and The Champions Dinner, see the links below: