War veteran and cancer patient, 86, tackles 100 hours of exercise in 10 days for charity

Eric Ayling
Eric Ayling
Gareth Milner

By Gareth Milner

Published: 24/11/2021

- 09:45

Updated: 14/02/2023

- 11:52

An 86-year-old cancer patient is tackling 100 hours of exercise in 10 days to raise funds for Help for Heroes.

Eric Ayling aims to raise £10,000 to support ex-service personnel from conflicts in Iraq and Afghanistan.

He will complete his challenge over 10 consecutive days in a series of sessions using various gym equipment.

The RAF veteran has become known as “the cycling man” after taking on various challenges on his static bike over the last eight years and raising more than £19,000.

Mr Ayling said when people do not believe his age he replies “Age is just a number”, and he credits his fitness for keeping him young and helping him to overcome depression.

“Since I had my diagnosis there’ve been days when my body gave up or I felt depressed, but the cycling has helped me to overcome it,” he said.

“My consultant has told me to keep on training, so I will… I aim to live to 100.

“I know it’s going to be hard but I’m confident I can do it and I am excited at the idea of achieving something I’ve never done before.”

Mr Ayling was diagnosed with cancer just before the pandemic last year.

In 2019, he cycled for 60 hours across six days to raise money but he believes his new challenge will be his biggest yet.

Through his fundraising, Mr Ayling wants to provide support for both service personnel and their families who have been indirectly affected by their loved one’s trauma.

Born in 1935, the veteran is “no stranger to hard times”.

When he was only a year old, his father was killed while serving in the RAF in India and his mother was unable to keep him.

To “escape the harsh cruelty” of growing up in care, he joined the RAF at the age of 17 in the hope that he could “build a better life”.

He went on to serve for 10 years during the 1950s, doing tours in Cyprus and Germany and also representing the service as a featherweight boxer.

Later in life, Mr Ayling’s wife, Katherine, was diagnosed with breast cancer and died in 2014 after a 20-year struggle.

A year after his wife’s diagnosis, the eldest of their three daughters, Mary, died from deep vein thrombosis aged only 19.

John Carpenter, area fundraising manager at Help for Heroes, said: “On behalf of Help for Heroes I would like to say a massive thank you to Eric… the two words that come to mind when I think of him are ‘total legend’.

“To have the determination and strength to do what he does, regardless of his age, is quite extraordinary.”

– To donate to Mr Ayling’s cause, go to https://www.justgiving.com/fundraising/ericthecyclingman

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