David Wren, Global Ambassador for Dementia Foundation for Spark of Life
David Wren, a Professional Golfer, has travelled extensively around the world with a personal passion for visiting developing countries. Having climbed throughout the Himalayas and completed bike crossings of Vietnam, Tibet, Nepal and South America, he set a challenge to ride ‘halfway round’ the world to raise money for Dementia Foundation for Spark of Life.
Consisting of over 22,000km by bike, David’s journey started in Ireland, travelling through Europe, the Middle East, and Asia, finally returning to Australia to ride the final leg across the Nullabor to Melbourne, Victoria.
David Wren writes about his Spark of Life journey:
My mum Althea Wren was a woman with many incredible attributes including a passion for her community and her family. Mum also spent her life advocating for the rights of the disabled and their right to participate in all of life’s activities and workplaces.
My older brother Peter Wren was born with disabilities and mums’ life was focused on maximizing his opportunity and access to the best health care and lifestyle available. I have zero memories of mum complaining and our childhood was an extremely happy experience considering the adversity my brother went through.
Althea was diagnosed with dementia at a time in her life (late 60’s) when we would all be expecting to slow down a little, enjoy the grandchildren, travel, and take life a little easier. That was not going to be the case and she very quickly went from an active member of the community and family to full time care. My observation was that the diagnosis of dementia for mum meant sitting on a chair in a nursing home will little or no interaction with everyday life. Althea lost her smile very quickly and for me personally once that smile was gone any signs of positiveness or happiness also left. On the back of a life so beautifully lived her final years were hard to witness. Mum was always about maximizing my brothers’ opportunities and with that in mind I wondered why people diagnosed with dementia were not given every opportunity to continue participating in life.
After some quick research I came across Dementia Care International as well as Jane Verity and Hilary Lee. The uniqueness of the way they talked about people with dementia I could instantly relate to and their focus on maximizing the lifestyle and happiness of people with dementia hit home with me immediately. I thought “how can I help”?
My adult life has included many overseas trips and for some reason I quickly became attracted to adventure travel. My 20’s and 30’s were spent climbing and trekking in many amazing places around the world including India, Nepal, Scotland, New Zealand, and Europe. Getting out of your comfort zone, isolation, and endurance can be very addictive and it became that for me.
In 1999 I met the love of my life Susan, and we married in February 2000. In those days a climbing trip could mean I’d be away for 4 – 6 weeks with no contact to the outside world. There was no pressure from Susan at all, but it crossed my mind for the first time that if something did happen to me it would affect someone else. I yearned for more adventure but needed to find something a little less dangerous. That’s when I discovered a website called ‘Crazy Guy on a Bike”. The site is basically a chat room for long distance bike tourers where trip routes, equipment, weather, and visa requirements are all shared as well as detailed day to day blogs of journeys underway or completed. I vividly remember reading the blog of two riders undertaking a Beijing to Paris trip and at that point had a light globe moment “bike touring is for me” and here I am 20 years later.
My first trip was with one of my closest friends and we road from Hanoi City to Ho Chi Minh City in Vietnam. 1500 kms over 20 days down National Highway number 1 and I was instantly hooked. 8 hours on a bike, rain, headwinds, find somewhere to stay, organize a meal, sleep, wake up and do the same thing again, and meeting locals along the journey. I absolutely loved it!
Rides over the next few years included Lhasa Tibet to Kathmandu Nepal via the Friendship Highway across the Tibetan Plateau, and Bogota Columbia to the Trujillo in Northern Peru. Much planning was required prior to rides including route planning, visas, equipment, clothing required, vaccinations, and organising places to stay where possible. I got proficient in how far I could potentially ride each day and researched potential hotel, hostels, or camp sites to sleep each night.
A trip consisted of packing my bike in a box, jumping on a plane, and hitting the road.
I loved the isolation and endurance required and realized that I was competent enough to pretty much ride anywhere in the world. I quickly also came the to the conclusion that 99.9% of humans have no interest in hurting or taking advantage of another person and that on arriving in a town or village everyone was keen to help me out in some way. My conclusion is that no matter what country you are in as human beings we all strive for the same things. Peace and security, education for the next generation, political and financial stability, fresh food, family connection and community. Whether you’re in provincial Iran or a cosmopolitan city in Europe the needs do not change.
In 2010 I started to hatch a plan to take a gap year and attempt a super long-distance solo ride. After some deliberating and research, I came up with a 22,000km ride from my Family name ancestral village in Ireland, Athboy, County Meath, to my home city Melbourne Australia. After much planning in May 2011, I jumped on plane to Dublin, Ireland and unpacked the bike. I unpacked the bike in Dublin, road out to Athboy, and then down to the port of Rosslare on the southern tip of the country. A ferry to Cherbourg in France and I started heading for Shanghai in China.
The original plan was to stay on the road for 12 months and complete the journey in one hit. Logistically that was complex so after 10 weeks on the road 5 ,000kms completed I arrived in the Black Sea city of Trabzon in Western Turkey and decided to come home and break the journey up into segments. Over the next 6 years and five separate segments on January 9, 2017, I rode into Melbourne Australia.
The ride included overland crossings of France, Switzerland, Italy, Croatia, Montenegro, Macedonia, Greece, Turkey, Iran, Turkmenistan, Uzbekistan, Kazakhstan, China with the final leg from Perth to Melbourne via my hometown Griffith NSW. Susan accompanied me in a campervan for the final leg across Australia and we had an absolute ball. She experienced firsthand what it is like to be out in the middle of nowhere and the sense of how small we all are compared to nature in full flight.
The trip included a “Go Fund Me’ page with all money raised going to Spark of Life. My marketing skills are not as good as Susan’s and until I had arrived in Perth, I had raised around $5,000 for the foundation. Susan quickly got busy on social media, and we finished up raising $20,000 in total for the trip. She also organised a couple of radio interviews and contacted the Herald Sun who interviewed me the day I arrived home resulting in a half page story in the Monday paper.
Since 2018 I have completed an 1800km ride down the west coast of Africa from Casablanca in Morocco to Louyanne in the Western Sahara and in 2019 I rode from Kashgar in western China to Islamabad in Pakistan. The Karakoram highway was amazing!! I will continue my pursuit of adventure cycling for as long as possible with a trip to Central America planned for 2023.
I think of mum sometimes when I’m out on the road. Althea was an inspiration and even with dementia she inspired us. However, she stopped smiling too early and we need to treat people with dementia with dignity, respect, and love.
Please support Dementia Foundation for Spark of Life and their unique approach to the wellbeing of anyone going through Althea’s journey. Thank you.
David Wren, Global Ambassador for Dementia Foundation for Spark of Life was interviewed radio by Todd Johnson on 6PR on Tuesday 6th September 2022 about his 22,0000 km ride around the world for the foundation and why he is dedicating this ride to his mum Althea Wren.
Listen to the interview here:
David Wren 6PR interview, Part 1:
David Wren 6PR interview, Part 2: