It’s not so long ago that charity fundraiser Neal Bullock was involved in a near fatal crash. Now he’s the winner of a Teesside Hero Award.
Neal, founder of Fat Lads on Bikes, was lucky to be alive after a fundraising bike ride came close to ending in tragedy. He suffered four broken ribs and a punctured lung after losing control of his bike in heavy rain and slamming into a stone wall.
He had to be airlifted to the very hospital he’s helped to raise thousands of pounds for, Middlesbrough’s James Cook University Hospital, where he spent his 42nd birthday.
Gutted at being unable to finish the 152-mile Coast to Coast cycle ride, Neal vowed to return to complete ‘unfinished business’ once he had recovered. And his crash ordeal certainly hasn’t stopped him getting back on two wheels.
Thanks to Neal, the Tour of Teesside cycle event was born, inspired by his friend, radio presenter and Voice of the Boro Ali Brownlee.
His drive and determination have now been recognised by Middlesbrough and Teesside Philanthropic Foundation. Patron Jayne Stephenson presented him with an award at the Fat Lads on Bikes fundraising dinner at Hardwick Hall.
Neal founded Fat Lads on Bikes in August 2014 with his sights set on raising as much money as possible for James Cook University Hospital’s Ward 14, which cares for cancer patients.
The Ingleby Barwick dad’s passionate campaign struck a chord with so many different people whose lives have been touched by cancer and Neal was soon spearheading a fundraising army of Fat Lads on Bikes and Phat Lasses in Trainers.
He said: “We only wanted to raise £5,000 but we went on to raise £50,000 in two years.
“Part of what I am very proud of is we have managed to get people on bikes who haven’t been on bikes for 30 years. I was one of them. The last time I was on a bike I was 12.
“We are not Team Sky. ‘Fat Lads’ was a throwaway comment when we set it up. It resonated with me. I am not thin-boned. I like my scran. I am not going to be Mr Universe any time!”
They have held many different events including bike rides, sponsored runs, a New Year’s Day dip, golf event, coffee morning and a Polka Dot Ball.
But forever etched in his memory is the Coast to Coast ride he tackled in August 2015. On the eve of his 42nd birthday, he came a cropper and ploughed into a stone wall near Tan Hill Inn in the Yorkshire Dales.
Neal, now 43, recalled: “It was teeming with rain. I didn’t hang about because I wanted to get down the hill. I remember hitting a wall. I remember it as clear as day. I can still feel that pain. My ribs were killing me.
“I could have died. I could have killed myself had it not been for the helmet. I was really lucky. I have three kids and I think of them. I get emotional even now. It just makes you re-evaluate your life and what’s important.”
He subsequently shared footage from a camera mounted on his helmet at the time of the crash to raise awareness of its life-saving potential.
Sadly, Fat Lads is now no more. Neal said: “It was a bit of fun. Fat Lads has sort of run its course. All good things have to come to an end.”
Instead Neal has set up a new charity, Teesside Family Foundation, to support local causes and make a real difference to the lives of many people.
He has joined forces with fellow Teesside Hero award winner and best friend Tony Wedlake. Tony has been involved with charity group Boro Real Fans Believe in Dreams, bringing cheer to less fortunate children.
- To nominate an unsung community champion as a Teesside Hero, visit the Get Involved page.