A couple of Dave Benfell's closest friends are the adventurous types who are up for any challenge.

They may be double amputees, with brain injuries or burns but they are among the most inspirational people Dave has ever met.

Dave, from Brookfield, will be meeting up with his ex-military buddies from the United Kingdom — all of them are severely injured soldiers — for an epic bike ride Bluff to Cape Reinga this month.

They will be on purpose-built recumbent tandem cycles for about 18 days, riding from 2500km South to North to raise money for charities related to ex-military in United Kingdom and Canada (teams are from New Zealand, United Kingdom and Canada).


A team of four New Zealanders are undertaking the ride. Each cycle has an adapted hand element at the front for amputees and an able-bodied person pedals at the back.

Operation Ride 2018 was created by UK charity Pilgrim Bandits and is the first of its kind.

In New Zealand, the charity it is raising money for is the Soldiers, Sailors, Airmen's Association of New Zealand (SSAANZ) which Dave established this year.

Dave doesn't want soldiers to be forgotten.

"There are more contemporary veterans than there has ever been. And we are forgotten. That's why I started this charity, I want them to know that we appreciate their service. It's kind of a thank you to them."

Dave says when men and women leave the military, they're on their own.

"When you leave the military it's an absolute wasteland of support. It's hard to leave the military. There's a lot of poor mental health outcomes for military.

"SSAANZ is trying to stop the isolation. I want to stop people from struggling. We're trying to create a positive model through activities and adventure sports — workshops such as snowboarding, trout fishing, hunting, or family fun weekends."

Activity and sport is what helped Dave recover from his injury. He was in the first battalion Royal New Zealand Infantry Regiment from 1996 to 2001. He joined theBritish army's Parachute Regiment, serving nine years. He has served in Northern Ireland, Iraq and twice in Afghanistan.

He was looking for adventure when he joined the Parachute Regiment. Dave says it was an amazing experience and he wouldn't change anything.

Dave was injured in 2009 after joining the Red Devils freefall team while a member of the parachute regiment. He misjudged a landing and came in too hard, broke his back and was paralysed from the waist down for two months, with a five month stint in hospital.

As soon as he could get out bed, Dave was building his strength to get fit. It took a year to regain his strength.

Dave is looking forward to seeing his buddies again who are taking part in the cycle. One of his friends was deemed the most badly injured soldier from the UK in Afghanistan.

"These guys are absolutely inspirational. These are life-destroying injuries if you let it, but most of these guys did not take the route of self pity and negativity — they all turned it into a positive."

Operation Ride 2018 is from October 28 to November 16, involving injured service men and women riding the length of New Zealand. Organisers Pilgrim Bandits (although the New Zealand team has undertaken much of the organisation) aim to make it a biennial challenge to be hosted by the winning country in 2020. Operation Ride will cover 150-160km per day (South Island) and 110-130km per day (North Island). Team New Zealand includes Amy Baynes Rolleston from Christchurch, Bill Blakie from Wellington, Bruce Blackburn from Christchurch and Dave. There is a fundraising givealittle page /givealittle.co.nz/cause/operation-ride-2018.