14 August, 2017

Dean Stott: 22,000 km against mental illness

The Pan American Highway is a 22,000 km-long road running through 14 countries from the Southern tip of South America, to the North of Alaska. Dean Stott will be undertaking this challenge in an attempt to break the World Record for completing the route by bike while raising money and awareness for a number of Mental Health charities. Dean sat with Damian Hackett, Orbea's UK and Ireland Country Manager, to discuss The Pan-American Highway Challenge 2018.

DH: So Dean, welcome to Orbea. You are now our newest Brand Ambassador. What does that mean to you?

DS: Firstly it’s a privilege being an ambassador for such an eminent brand within the cycling culture. From being a non-cyclist a few months ago, to having the support and backing of a brand like Orbea is a little surreal.

We share something of a common history – from Guns to Bikes? Tell me a little about your background…

Well, I spent 16 years in the military, and had to take early retirement due to an injury I sustained in a parachuting accident. I found that following the accident I was not able to run any more, and I had really enjoyed running. It was an amazing way to keep my head clear, and escape from the day to day burdens of life. Without being able to exercise as I had before, I found myself struggling mentally. I was in quite a dark place, but someone suggested taking up cycling as a means of getting out, exercising and clearing my head without the high-impact strains of running. I had only really cycled as a child, but once I started, I quickly fell in love with the sport, and here we are!

So how did you end up taking on this challenge… what was your Eureka moment?

Well, I have a need to be busy – I need projects to focus my energy on – and I also love doing things on a rather grand scale! I am in a good position that my businesses are doing well, and when I found myself in a position where I could tackle a grand challenge, focus on a large-scale project, and help others in the process, I immediately wanted to do it. The Special Forces have a mission statement, which is ‘The Unrelenting Pursuit of Excellence’ so I decided to find a World Record I could attempt. Initially we had considered Cairo to Cape-Town through Africa, but then we saw what was ‘The Longest Road’.

Harry suggested undertaking the challenge as a fundraising project for Heads Together, so that became the driving ambition behind where we are today.

Tell me a little about your relationship with Prince Harry… He is a major protagonist for this challenge…

He and I have had a very normal friendship which started when we met on the same training course about 10 years ago. He is such a driving force for this charity and his exposure to the military has meant that he has a real passion for helping those who have had to deal with the scars of conflict. Since starting this I realise that so many people know others who have had issues with mental health. I didn’t personally suffer from PTSD, but I ended up in a very dark place after my injury.

So, how do you hope to affect the charities under the Heads Together umbrella with this challenge?

Well, I’ve done other things to support some charities and have done some other things with Harry. I have seen friends from the military suffering from PTSD and I know some other people who have suffered with depression, and I know first-hand how easy it is to slip into a dark place. I feel that if we can raise the £1M in funding to support their activities, and create a clear communication that exercise is one of the best therapies for depression and stress, then we will have done what we set out to do.

Physical activity makes such a difference for mental health and this is really one of the key highlights. I’m not suggesting that everyone needs to ride 14,000 miles to find mental health, but depression tends to have three treatments. Talking about it; Medicate it or Exercise. I believe we need to emphasise exercise as an effective therapy.

This appears to be a huge logistical undertaking. What do you envisage being your biggest challenge within the challenge?

Well, we are cycling through 14 countries and two continents, taking a TV production company, and a support team. Moving that entire team smoothly across the entire route will prove to be a huge challenge. As we attempt to cross the Darrian Gap, our vehicles need to be left behind in Columbia while we get the equipment and ourselves across to Panama, to collect new vehicles and set off on the northern half of the journey. That is likely to present the biggest en-route obstacle, but the truth is, we must prepare for virtually anything. We don’t know who may get sick or injured; what we will encounter at border crossings; what characters, weather or obstacles we may encounter on the road . . . we just have to be prepared for everything!

You have selected a team of mostly ex-military colleagues?

Yes, we have seven volunteers who are all ex-military. They are methodical and diligent. With such an experienced team, we would expect each one to be able to adapt and react as different situations present themselves. The military emphasis is that with preparation and planning, anything becomes possible. We aim to prepare better and plan for every contingency we can imagine.

Well Dean, we are very proud and privileged to be supporting your challenge. You realise that you’re completely crazy – right?

Ha, ha, . . . it’s not the first time I’ve been told that. It’s amazing to have a brand like Orbea take this challenge so much to heart. I really believe that I have found a partner who shares my values. As we said earlier, we’ve both journeyed from guns to bikes, but we share a passion for social well-being also – and that’s what I really like about working with Orbea. It feels like any exposure we will gain for the brand is secondary to making a social difference and making this a success. That makes it all feel so much more like a genuine relationship.

Well, we genuinely wish you every success and look forward to following your adventure over the coming months.