I first joined the Knights in White Lycra (KIWL) in 2014, when I drove the support truck on the ride to Minamisanriku, in aid of the Tohoku-focused children’s charity Place to Grow. In 2016, I took the plunge, bought a road bike, trained in a cycling gym and embarked on my first 500-km ride as a cyclist, which took us from Tokyo to Ichinoseki in Iwate Prefecture. This was the first year that KIWL raised funds for Mirai no Mori, and one fellow debutante in my team of six (largely inexperienced) riders was Mirai no Mori Executive Director Kozue Oka, who has remained a close friend ever since.
I wasn’t sure that I could complete the ride: distance was no problem, but the mountain climbs were a daunting prospect. Resplendent in our green-and-red kit, however, the six of us—ironically known as the “A-Team”—rode cohesively, and, despite the odd spill, completed the ride successfully.
At the end of the ride, we visited a care-home, where some of the children who benefit from Mirai no Mori’s excellent programs live. This was both a humbling and inspiring experience, and these visits have now become the traditional finale to each ride.
Subsequently, I cycled on the 2017, 2018 and 2019 rides before Covid intervened and forced the cancellation of the 2020 event. In 2021, a much-curtailed KIWL 500 was staged, in which the riders rode individually or in very small pods, in order to comply with government Covid protocols.
I missed the 2022 ride, as my mother passed away in the UK one month before. She had always been a strong advocate of children’s rights and educational opportunities for the most vulnerable, so was as committed to Mirai no Mori’s goals and principles as I am.
Returning to the KIWL peloton in 2023 after a four-year hiatus and when we resumed our support for Mirai no Mori was thus a highly significant and emotionally charged moment. I trained harder than I had for previous rides—keenly aware that most of the pack were younger and fitter than me.
This year’s 500-km ride, once again to Ichinoseki, saw torrential rain on the second day, causing us to take a shorter, less mountainous course that day. The other three days were pleasant and sunny, although we did occasionally encounter strong crosswinds.
As we made our way through the beautiful mountain and coastal scenery of Tohoku, we were joined on the final two days by UK Ambassador to Japan Julia Longbottom CMG, a KIWL veteran from 2015, and her husband Richard Sciver. On completion of the ride, the peloton formed up together and rode up to the Ichinoseki children’s home for the now-traditional visit.
KIWL fundraising is a three-pronged effort, consisting of corporate sponsorship (company names on the team jersey), personal donations to individual riders via websites such as Global Giving, and other sponsored events like the Palace Walk.
Raising individual donations has become harder over time. My peak was in 2017, when I managed to raise ¥830,000 in personal donations to Mirai no Mori. This year, I am hovering around ¥300,000. In 2022, however, I was also able (with the invaluable assistance of Tony Moore of BMES) to introduce sportswear company Oakley as a corporate sponsor, and they generously continued their sponsorship into 2023, supplying the entire peloton with sunglasses and cycling helmets. I have also initiated various collaborations between Mirai no Mori and the British School in Tokyo (BST), which continue to bear fruit. This year, no fewer than 10 out of the 47 riders had BST connections, as either parents or trustees.
There are many excellent NPOs in existence, but it is hard to top Mirai no Mori’s magnificent model of strengthening society at its core by empowering and educating society’s most vulnerable children.
The Knights will thus continue to support Mirai no Mori in 2024.
Fundraising for this year’s ride is still on-going, so if you would like to sponsor my ride and contribute to this excellent cause, please visit: globalgiving.org/fundraisers/cycling-for-a-better-future-for-care-home-kids