Into Africa! Melanie Marshall leads Olympions in Zambian charity bike ride

Rebecca Adlington, Jo Jackson, Melanie Marshall and Ross Davenport.

Rebecca Adlington, Jo Jackson, Melanie Marshall and Ross Davenport.

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FORMER Olympic swimmer Melanie Marshall is not one to shirk a challenge – but she’ll be out of her comfort zone as she takes on snakes, scorpions and the threat of Malaria during a four-day cycle ride across Zambia.

Melanie will team up with fellow international athletes Rebecca Adlington, Jo Jackson and Ross Davenport to take on the trek in a bid to raise £50,000 for the Sport in Action charity.

Beginning on October 3, they will attempt the 450km ride from Livingstone to capital Lusaka.

But there will be plenty of obstacles standing in their way.

“There’s only one road between Livingston and Lusaka and it’s not that bad, it’s a bit like a B road here,” Melanie told The Standard.

“But there will be snakes and scorpions, and malaria will be rife at that time of year.

“We’ll also be riding through impoverished communities on our bikes. I just hope the locals will support us and not try to steal our equipment.

“The other problem is we’ll be cycling for four days without any showers, so we’ll be very smelly.”

Smelly may, in fact, be an understatement, as temperatures can reach up to 35C at that time of year, making cycling more than 100km each day no simple task.

The trio are no strangers to hard work and determination.

Melanie, from Wrangle, is England’s most successful female competitor at a single Commonwealth Games, having won six medals at Melbourne 2006.

She also represented Great Britain in two Olympics.

Rebecca shot to fame in Beijing four years ago when she won freestyle gold in both the 400m and 800m - breaking a 19-year-old world record in the 800m.

Meanwhile, Jo won freestyle bronze in the 400m at Beijing and Ross is a Commonwealth champion.

But the three pals are more familiar with life in the pool than on dry land.

So how are they shaping up for the two-wheeled challenge?

“When training for swimming we did a lot of cross training, so I’m not a stranger to cycling,” added Melanie, who is now a coach for the City of Derby club. “But I’m sure I’ll be feeling it after four years out of the sport.”

Her love affair with Zambia began while she was competing for Loughborough University.

There she was approached by Sport in Action to become one of their ambassadors.

Melanie has previously visited the country, spent time with the locals and even raised £23,000 for the charity and her swimming club following fundraisers. Sport in Action aim to help others through sport and raise awareness about AIDS.

Melanie has witnessed African life first hand.

She said: “I think a problem out there is the structure of the country and education. But they are a very giving nation, where people who still have very little are always willing to share.

“In terms of education, people don’t know enough about combating HIV and AIDS. Life expectancy is 40 and from every 1,000 babies born, 100 die at birth.

“You can hand out all the pills you want but we want to educate people to be able to avoid catching the disease.

“We want to reduce the stigma attached to HIV and AIDS out there, by providing education.”

And now Melanie is planning on raising at least £50,000 for the cause, and to do so she has a plan.

She explains: “Our target is £50,000.

“Becky already has 43,000 Twitter followers and that number’s rising and I’m sure it’ll be even greater after the Olympics.

“Hopefully, if every follower gives £1 then that’s at least £43,000.

“Then maybe the other two of us can bring in the rest.”

There are several ways you can make a donation to Melanie’s cause.

You could visit the JustGiving page by logging on to http://www.justgiving.com/ZambiaCycle

Alternatively, you can give by text.

To donate, text TPDF50 and your amount to 70070. For example, if you want to donate £10, text TPDF50 £10 to 70070.