Cycling the World in Memory of Leanne Brownhill

Cycling the World in Memory of Leanne Brownhill


I’ve been wanting to post this for ages and I don’t really know why I haven’t jumped to it sooner, but with the Leanne Summer Ball coming up, it feels like a good time to share.

Every year my friends and Leanne’s family organise an “Annual Summer Ball”. The team, led by Leanne’s mum, Lynne set out to have an absolute blast in memory of my very special friend, Leanne. This year the ball is on the 7th September and many of my greatest friends will get together and spend their evening dancing, reminiscing, laughing and singing to One Direction.

Leanne’s mum, Lynne Brownhill who we call “Mamma Red” rocking the red superhero fancy dress at the Leanne Brownhill Summer Ball 2018. Like all CRY mums, Lynne is a true superwoman.

Every year the ball raises around £900 for the charity Cardiac Risk in the Young (CRY). I will miss the ball for the second year in a row; last year I had a wedding to attend on the same night. This year the FOMO (fear of missing out) will be real, as Stew and I battle with one of the toughest stretches of our trip so far…possibly what will be the toughest stretch of entire trip. As it stands we’re anticipating a very challenging 4000 miles (6,400kms) of predominately dry, desert and wasteland – plus the challenge of cycling through the Xinjiang province of China.

Some of my greatest friends at the Leanne Summer Ball in 2018. The theme, if you haven’t guessed already was Superheroes and Villains. 

We’re proudly cycling for Cardiac Risk in the Young (CRY) in loving memory of my best friend, Leanne Brownhill.

Donate to CRY

Having a charity attached to the bike ride helps to keep us focused, it adds another layer of purpose to the circumnavigation and it’s connected us with more people in the UK – and some people internationally who can empathise with our loss and respect CRY and the work they do due to their own struggles with their heart defects.

We love hearing a donation has been made and honestly the day is just a bit sweeter knowing that our trip is making a difference and raising awareness for a charity who are so genuinely helpful, supportive and hard working.

Meet Leanne

On this blog and on Facebook & Instagram I introduce you to a lot of people we meet on route and tell you about how they’ve added value to our trip and it’s about time I introduce you to my friend Leanne.

One of my favourite pictures of Leanne. Here she is with her Jack Russell, Alfie. You could say he was one of those “too-big-for-his-boots” dogs!

Sadly, Leanne is the reason we know about CRY and the reason we are cycling, in part, for them. 

Leanne was a really special person.

We met when I was 16/17 and quickly hit it off. Leanne was 3 years older than me and studying to become a nurse at university.

Trudie, Leanne and me on New Years Eve 2007. I was 17 – too young to be in the pub, but that didn’t stop us. 

To me, she was super cool; she could do her make up properly, unlike me, so she taught me a bit. She pulled off a red lip better than anyone I know and she was a really fun person to be around – always laughing, joking, singing (badly), dancing (badly) and having a good time. During her studies Leanne lived in Manchester and I’d visit her often, sometimes alone, other times with a group of friends. Leanne introduced me, a country bumpkin to city life! Thinking about it now, Leanne made me feel quite confident and challenged me to try a lot of new things. She was straight talking, but supportive at the same time.

Red lips & always messing around.

2009, a year I will never forget

I look back to the year 2009 and it was one of the best years of my life. A year I look back on with fondness.

It was a year where I spent a lot of time with Leanne. I was 19. We were in and out of each others houses and we called each others mothers “mamma Jane” and “mamma Lynne!” We baked cakes in the day and went out in the evening…actually sometimes we went out in the day too…

Louise, me and Leanne likely in the Blue Boar, our local at the time.

Leanne introduced me to many of her friends and through Leanne I entered a sisterhood with some really special girls. We all became very close. We’ve been through the motions of our late teens and 20s together, we’ve weathered the nonsense-girl-stuff, boys – good and bad, the general stresses of life, deaths, break ups, illness, house moves and so much more.

Kim, Hayley, me, Jess, Emily, Louise & Leanne. Some of my most special friends. I love all these girls with all my heart, like sisters.

We’ve partied for each birthday, Christmas and New Year…actually sometimes we partied pretty hard just because it was Friday or Saturday or Sunday, or Wednesday or Thursday – oh and the occasional Monday and Tuesday too…We’ve celebrated life goals and milestones and in the end, we’ve stood by each other through the toughest times.

Just because Wednesday. 

We spent many weekends in the local pubs, drinking cheap wine and chasing it down with a Passoa and lemonade to recover from the taste while dancing in sync to Katy Perry.

When you have a friendship like that, when you lose such a significant person, a member, a sister – the group will feel that forever.

Of course, we still celebrate birthdays together with parties, night clubs or long weekends away (we have to debate now whether we should have  “all-girl” times or bring our partners along). It is the events that hit the hardest I think, or at least they hit again. At each occasion you are a (wo)man down: the weddings, the birthdays, the christenings, engagements, the news of new babies – you are always one person short of a full celebration and I don’t think that will ever disappear.

We started a sisterhood with Leanne in it and there will forever be a Leanne shaped hole.

I miss her often, especially on this trip. Cycling around the world for CRY makes me think about her more. I miss her singing and dancing and I love to see the old videos of her just being Leanne. She mastered the art of being herself quite young I think, unapologetically Leanne.

She was a loyal friend – outside the parties and the fun she was just always there. Leanne had a diagnosed heart condition and she was a paediatric nurse so she was familiar with hospitals. I’m not afraid of hospitals, but I have a terrible sense of direction and once I arrive at one I’m useless. She would ALWAYS come with me when I had an appointment. She was always ready for a chat and a cuppa, always responded to texts. She was bloody brilliant.

My 21st birthday

Leanne was the friend who made sure we were looked after. For my 21st birthday Leanne and Louise led my surprise birthday celebrations. They booked an entire agenda in New Quay, Cornwall and whenever I hear “Calvin Harris – Feels So Good” I am taken right back to New Quay, dressed as Where’s Wally misbehaving in a nightclub.

Leanne, Emily, me, Louise and Hayley – before the carnage!

I am reminded of the purple Nissan Micra that Leanne drove from Shropshire to Cornwall with a happy birthday banner on the back.

Leanne stood on her Nissan Micra – this was a Where’s Wally night in Ludlow. 

I can remember what I was wearing and I can remember that she baked the cakes too – she always baked the cakes. She always went the extra mile. That weekend Leanne had a lot of troubles with her heart – if memory serves me well she visited a hospital that very weekend. She was selfless and tough and she soldiered on.

It was Happy Hour in New Quay, £2 per pint – what would you do?

2013, a year we will never forget

When we found out Leanne had died it didn’t seem real. We knew Leanne had a heart defect, but it was under control as far as we knew. Absolutely no one was expecting Leanne to die.

Upon hearing the news we gathered around at Louise’s house…when I say we you might assume I am talking about the girls I’ve mentioned and pictured above, “the sisterhood” – yes of course they were all there, but there was more than just 7 of us. Leanne was a social butterfly and she had tonnes of friends. We live in a small town and anyone who knew Leanne well came to Louise’s house and for some time we sat in silence trying to digest the news that our friend was gone.

That night our sisterhood was changed forever, I lost my best friend, her family members lost their daughter, sister, cousin, niece, granddaughter and England lost a nurse.

This matters. If only we screened our young people.

Cardiac Risk in the Young were a great support to Lynne and Leanne’s family after the tragedy of losing Leanne. They identified the REAL problems with her heart, supported her brother through his journey with his own heart defect and offered bereavement support to Lynne.

The Cardiac Risk in the Young (CRY) logo

I’m amazed by the support that CRY offer – and I don’t want to undervalue the incredible medical work they do, because their work and research impacts medical awareness and care worldwide, but what I love the most about CRY is that they are there for families. It is their support network that I am personally most passionate and inspired by.

CRY is a UK national charity who raise awareness for cardiac arrest in young people. They are researchers, medical experts who are shaping science internationally but they are also caring and supportive to the ones and twos.

CRY was started by Alison Cox in 2005. Alison makes a personal call to every single grieving family herself. CRY care and they make a difference.

We know that screening identifies heart defects and the NHS testing is simply not thorough enough to catch heart defects. If Italy can reduce their statistics by 90% simply by screening young people involved in organised sport then we can too. It devastates me to know we are losing young lives when we could rapidly reduce numbers.

Donate to CRY

Please donate to CRY if you can. Your donation will go direct the charity within a couple of weeks. Your donation will spur us on and keep us moving and I will ensure that every penny of your donation is paid directly to CRY. I will pay any fees incurred by using Virgin Money Giving and of course, our trip is completely self funded.

You might be wondering where donations go once CRY receive it, well according to their website here 83.5p from each £1 donated goes to:

  1. 36% to screening
  2. 26% to research
  3. 15% to awareness
  4. 14% to fundraising
  5. 7% to support
  6. 2% to Governance

Donate to CRY

I finish this post today with a heavy-heart, one filled with sadness, but also an awareness of how lucky I am to have had such a wonderful best-friend – a friendship I will cherish for life.

I will miss my friend Leanne for the rest of my years and to the friends who have stuck it all out with me – thank you all from the bottom of my heart.

With a special thanks today to the girls I would not have without Leanne: Kimmy Leighton, Hayley Pitt (Gwilliam), Jess Deighton, Emily Walton (Matthews) and Louise Bradley. Bab love forever.



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2 responses to “Cycling the World in Memory of Leanne Brownhill”

  1. Stephen says:

    Thanks for sharing! What a wonderful person she sounded like. She will live on in your memories. “To absent friends. In memory, still bright.”.

  2. Lynne Brownhill says:

    This is so beautifully written and from the heart, in fact it reduced me to tears because it is so heartfelt and heartbreakingly sad and beautiful at the same time. Our family will always be grateful for the love and loyalty of Leanne’s wonderful friends, who along with CRY, have given us so much support and love since Leanne’s tragic death in 2013, all so selfless and untiring in their never ending campaign to raise funds for this wonderful charity. This awesome young lady and equally awesome partner,Stew, are circumnavigating the world in memory of Leanne and to raise funds for CRY!!! Never ones to do things by half, these two!!! There are not enough words in this world to describe this kind of love and loyalty, I take my hat off to Zoe and Stew and thank you both from the bottom of my heart, so much respect and love for you both ❤️❤️❤️❤️

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We're Zoe & Stewart and we've been cycling around the world since March 2019.

This blog was born in 2017 when Stew cycled a 2,500 mile, solo John O' Groats to Land's End (JOGLE) along the west coast of the UK.

At the time Stew was planning a world cycling tour for his 30th birthday, but his plans changed when he met me and invited me along on this trip of a lifetime. I took no hesitation in saying "YES I'd love to come". We quickly threw ourselves into a 1,022 mile bike tour of the UK to make sure I enjoyed it - needless to say - I love it!

We've since cycled over 20 countries together and I love to share our adventures on this blog.

You can also download our tried and tested routes, and soon we're bringing you gear reviews, guides, bike equipment lists, reviews and more.

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