Meet Eleni, one of our treasured and top-rated Challenge Leaders. Having joined us on an array of treks and cycles across the globe, Eleni has built a name for herself amongst our challengers. Many of you even choose your next adventure depending on the ones she is leading!
In this interview, Eleni reveals what it's like to work with Dream Challenges and what sets our trips apart from other travel companies. Read on to learn how she became a challenge leader and what participants can expect when they trek or cycle with us, including top tips and her favourite ever adventures.
What inspired you to become a challenge leader?
The story of my becoming a challenge leader is actually a sad one. Back in 2006, my Dad was attacked and left brain-damaged. He became completely uncommunicative and needed 24-hour care for the next twelve years, until he died three years ago.
He had to stay in a home and for the first three years, he lived in the Royal Hospital for Neuro-disability in Putney, London. It is here that my career as a tour manager started. My husband and I decided to raise money for the hospital and signed up to a cycle ride across Cuba. It was my first group event and after experiencing the joy of helping a couple of other participants that were struggling to make it through to the end of the day’s ride, I realised that it was the job for me. The next year, we signed up for a Vietnam cycle and I was so hooked I had to find my way into the industry.
After many years working on every charity event I could find for five different companies, I finally got my big break as an Assistant on a Kilimanjaro Trek. Luckily for me, it was all go from there.
I still find it an incredible mix of emotions that from something so tragically sad, I have had the best experiences of my life. I have been able to help and encourage the most amazing groups of people to achieve their goals and raise money for such fantastic causes. The biggest thing I have learned from my Job is that EVERYONE has a story.
How long have you been leading challenges?
I started working on charity sporting events in 2011 and led my first China Trek in 2014.
Which challenges do you prefer most: cycling or trekking and why?
This is a question I can’t answer. Each is amazing in its own way. On a cycle, you get to cover a lot of ground and see the back streets of the country, enjoying the heart-pumping activity of the climbs and the joyful relief of the descents.
Whereas, on a trek, you get to take your time, chat away with the whole group as you walk, see footpaths, gorges and mountains that you couldn’t get anywhere near on a bicycle.
Why Dream Challenges? What would you say to people thinking to take up a Dream Challenge?
Dream challenges is an amazing company. To work for, they are supportive, understanding and always willing to listen to ideas and suggestions. This alone would be reason enough to book a DC trip, as every point is about making the experience the best it can, for both clients and staff.
They really do allow you to take on a Dream Challenge (Cheesy!). You only have to look at how many repeat customers they get to see that people love the experiences that DC make available. DC set up challenges and experiences that people may never get to do on their own. Add in the fact that a vast amount of the clients are raising funds for invaluable causes and you get incredibly important and emotional challenges.
I can honestly say, I have met some of the most amazing people, both crew and clients, through DC events, people I consider friends.
At the end of every trip, it is amazing to see how groups have bonded and I love the little thrill of thinking I may have had something to do with how much they have enjoyed the trip and the group experience.
Which has been your favourite Dream Challenge so far and why?
Another tricky one. I have done some amazing trips and each one I would recommend to everyone:
So, so many... But I would probably say that my FAVOURITE trip has been Cycle Mumbai to Goa. I have worked on that challenge three times and I will never tire of it! The groups I had on all three trips were truly fantastic, the challenging climbs, beautiful descents and amazing scenery, people and food, combined all my best bits of Cycle Vietnam Cambodia, Cycle Rajasthan and the Tanzania Bike Ride.
Is there a Dream Challenge that you haven’t done yet that you would like to do?
YES! Luckily for me, I am booked to work on some of them next year. I have been desperate to visit Borneo for many years and the DC trek is exactly the itinerary that I would plan myself!
The Kerala cycle coming up has been high on my list since I first travelled to Kerala for a trek several years ago – I’m anticipating it being an equal trip to Mumbai to Goa.
The Tanzania Kili to Coast ride is a must! I can’t wait! Tanzania is one of my favourite countries and I have never been to the coast there!!!
I’d really love to revisit Cuba and do a trek. I’d love to experience the country at a slower pace and see the changes that have happened there since 2010.
Arghhh, there are too many! Trekking in Mongolia and the Amazon Rainforest, cycling around Ibiza – although I have done an Ibiza challenge many years ago, I would love to go back and the DC trip looks amazing – the Canadian Rockies trek… Soooooo many!
What would be your top three tips for someone taking up a Dream Challenge?
1. Train – No matter how fit you are or how used you are to a certain activity, the more you train the more enjoyable you will find the challenge.
If you find yourself in the faster half of the group, you can experience the joy of helping others that may be struggling to achieve something they may believe is beyond them.
2. Be prepared to join a group – whether you are super sociable or super shy, there will be someone in the group that you will find yourself connecting with. The group camaraderie and support is second to none on the DC events I have been privileged enough to be part of, with participants from all walks of life and with such a huge variety of characters. Everyone comes together with a common goal. It is lovely to be part of.
3. Follow the kit list! – The items on there will make your trip so much more comfortable. Also, join the Whatsapp or Facebook group before the trip to pre-meet your group and get a heads up on any last-minute kit or planning ideas from other members or even the leader.
What advice would you give to anyone who had concerns over their age or fitness level?
The challenges are for everyone. Obviously, train as much as you can, but on the challenge itself, It is NOT about completing every mile. It is about doing your best and enjoying yourself.
DC always send at least one UK doctor (two for larger groups) on a trip, should you have any health concerns and the support vehicles and staff are ALWAYS nearby should you need to take a break. The training, showing up and trying are what it is all about.
How do you prepare and train for your Dream Challenges?
I am lucky enough to live in Crete on the side of a mountain, so while I do not have a gym nearby, I do have nature’s gym. All my training takes place in the surrounding mountains and tracks. I even trained for the Sahara challenge by climbing sand-dunes on the beaches near here.
Do you have any memorable, funny stories from your past challenges?
Yes, but a lot of them revolve around the celebration nights, and what happens in Siem Reap… ha ha!
I loved the spontaneous dancing that my group broke into at the side of the road in Goa, the team games and competitions that I get groups to play on treks, the beers at the finish lines, running into the sea in our cycling gear, seeing giraffes cross the road right in front of us, the crew “Party Tuk Tuk” in Cambodia (with disco lights, blaring music and everything), trying to chase a baboon off a bus in Tanzania, before the group reached the finish line… So many now I have started!
Which challenges are you leading for Dream Challenges in 2021 & 2022?
I’ve got quite a few lined up and I’m so excited for them all, especially after so long in lock-down! I’ll be leading:
• The Big Heart Bike Ride in Sri Lanka and Kilimanjaro to Coast
• Trek Borneo (all three groups)
• Trek the Inca Trail
• Both groups for Cycle Kerala
Which 2021 or 2022 Dream Challenge are you most looking forward to?
You keep asking me difficult questions!! My gut would be Kerala. I usually spend a lot of time in India over the winter and I miss it, plus I know the challenge is going to be flipping fantastic.
But each trip and destination are places I either LOVE or have been wanting to visit for a long time. I always knew my job was special and I feel like the luckiest person ever to have such a wonderful working life.
Covid has made me appreciate how much it means to me and how special the ability to travel the world while meeting some of the world’s greatest souls truly is.
Feeling inspired? Experience a Dream Challenge for yourself
If Eleni has inspired you, why not join her or one of our other amazing challenge leaders on a Dream Challenge? Experience the unbeatable camaraderie, extraordinary destinations and epic celebrations Eleni loves so much for yourself and trek or cycle with us.
Whether you're a sun lover or a winter wanderer, a born explorer or home bird or you just want to challenge yourself and make friends, we've got adventures for everyone. Find your Dream Challenge here and prepare for the best experience of your life.