If you have ever joined a Women V Cancer challenge, chances are you have met Carol. Our lead Women V Cancer warrior from the Netherlands has supported our cycles all over the world, from London to Kenya to India and beyond. Along the way, she has laughed, danced and formed lasting bonds with hundreds of Women V Cancer heroes.
In this interview, Carol lets us in on her life as a Challenge Leader and why after over ten years, she is still always amazed by our Women V Cancer charity cycling challenges and the women taking part.
Firstly, can you tell us a little about yourself? What is the Carol Pelzers story?
I have spent much of my life in the Netherlands and have always been interested in travelling and getting to know other cultures.
In the Netherlands, after getting a degree in Tourism and Tour Operating, I spent a long time working in managerial, organisation, sales, facility management and human resources positions in the travel, conference, hospitality, university, and telecommunication businesses. As time went on, working too hard, I came close to burning out and decided to change my career path.
I treated myself to a sabbatical from work and became a walking guide for a small tour company based in Ireland. It was not long after returning from this job that I first met my late partner at Amsterdam Schiphol Airport.
I went on to work for a travel magazine and travel book department of a big company in the Netherlands. Again, a managerial job, but I soon realised that I was not ready to go back to the rat race. My late partner asked me to come and live in the UK and that was all the persuasion I needed.
I moved to the UK and I discovered Dream Challenges through my brother-in-law, who introduced me to Ann, the founder of Women V Cancer. She asked if I liked to cycle and of course, I am a Dutch woman! I was used to cycling every day to work and to the shops. Ann asked me to do my very first challenge, as an assistant for a Women for Women cycle in China, pre-Women V Cancer.
I enjoyed this event so much! I loved to hear people’s stories about how and why they were raising funds for the Women V Cancer charities. In 2011, I was asked to assist a charity cycle in Kenya and many followed. Then, in 2017, I led my first Women V Cancer challenge in Brazil.
I am very passionate about this role. I love making the challenge a life-changing and positive experience for the participants. It is all about them. They do the hard work and raise the funds for all these good causes.
We have some terminally ill women on trips and yet they still do the challenges, support other participants and raise so much awareness for the charities. I am happy to do anything to make the challenges work for these amazing ladies. For me, it is definitely not just a job!
What inspired you to become a challenge leader?
I am naturally an active, outdoors-type person. I realised this when working for the walking company in Ireland. This is where I found my true self. I have an enormous interest in nature and I love to get to know other countries and cultures. I love and respect the diversity of cultures on this beautiful planet. I feel at home and comfortable everywhere! My previous work, life and travel experiences have all helped me to become a good tour manager.
What makes Dream Challenges and Women V Cancer in particular so special?
Dream Challenges events are so well organised. They always do their utmost to make the challenges work. They never cut any corners or compromise participants’ safety. They do an amazing job.
Women V Cancer is special for many reasons. The three charities do amazing things to support and help the millions of women who are diagnosed with cancer worldwide and the participants on the challenges have all been affected by cancer in some way, whether they have lost a loved one or are going through treatment or facing terminal illness themselves. And let’s face it: we have to do our utmost to find a cure for these horrible diseases.
What is great about Women V Cancer is that we are in it together and that we all take care of each other. It is not a race or a competition. We all group together on these challenges to support each other and to give everybody the best chance to reach their personal goals and the finish line.
I try to understand the background of the ladies taking part in these events and to help them to feel as comfortable as possible. Remember, it is not a holiday, it is a challenge, but everybody deserves to have the best time.
Which has been your favourite Women V Cancer challenge so far and why?
That is such a hard question because every challenge is unique in its own way. All countries are very interesting, but my first cycling challenge in India was a truly magical experience.
The Royal palaces are amazing, the camping nights are great fun and you get to know the country from the inside. It was also very special, because we were there for Diwali and the colours, the spices, the people and the entire culture of India is just mind-blowing.
Do you have any memorable, funny stories from your past challenges?
It’s difficult to recall them all, because I am concentrating on work while they are happening. There have been so many funny moments, like when I was a ground staff assistant in China and I was the one who took the wrong route and the participants had to chase me to get me back on track!
There are so many memories, from dancing in India on lunch breaks next to tractors with loudspeakers, a participant raising funds by pole dancing in Kenya on every hilltop, the sketches, poems etc. at our celebration nights, the dressing up, the decorations on bikes…and teaching a participant who was new to cycling that she didn’t have to cycle in first gear the whole route. She became a speedy cyclist once she discovered she had gears on her bike!
Having supported most of our past Ride the Nights, what would you say sets our flagship challenge apart from other big cycling events?
It is different because it’s so special. The bonding between our participants as they take on the biggest female cycling event in the UK is something so special that it can’t be replicated.
The atmosphere is amazing and working as the start-and-finish-line manager for a few years, I danced all through the night to keep myself awake. This is also a perfect reunion for Women V Cancer past participants and great for those who are just starting off getting to know Women V Cancer.
Could you describe briefly the support given at these events? For example, what would you say to first-timers who are thinking of joining a challenge?
I will do whatever it takes as an overseas challenge manager, together with our amazing local ground staff, to help everybody feel comfortable and happy cycling in all these different countries, cultures and environments.
I am very adaptable and always give whatever support I can. Remember, I am not important, the participants are the real heroes!
And even if you are worried because you are joining on your own, I promise you, you are part of the Women V Cancer family and by the end of the challenge, you will have made new lifelong friends.
What training advice would you give?
People should definitely train, but please don’t overdo the training. I would train regularly, around three times a week on a bike, try to cycle on hills and get used to using gears.
Regular training is essential, even in winter. You need to have a good basic fitness level, but you don’t have to become an Olympic Athlete. The fitter you are, the quicker you will acclimatise and enjoy the challenge.
Feeling inspired? Experience a Dream Challenge or Women V Cancer challenge for yourself
Reading about the camaraderie, support and exquisite destinations are one thing, but it's impossible to imagine the magic until you've experienced an overseas charity challenge first-hand. And everyone knows that photos don't do justice to the real thing.
If Carol has inspired you, why not join her or one of our other amazing challenge leaders on a Women V Cancer or Dream Challenge? Whether you're looking for a way to make a big impact for an important cause, an opportunity to meet amazing people, an incentive to get fit or you simply need to escape to an incredible part of our planet, you're bound to find a Dream Challenge that suits you better than you thought possible! Find your adventure here and prepare for the best experience of your life!