Ben Bowers, who has beaten cancer not once but twice and is the father of a miracle daughter, admits he is “one in a million”.
The 37-year-old UK ambassador for the world’s largest men’s health organisation Movember isn’t being immodest. It’s a medical fact and one that has made him a firm believer in fate and his role on the planet. Since the extremely rare double diagnosis, he has dedicated his life to making sure other men look after their health to avoid what he insists is a modern-day crisis affecting mankind.
“Crisis isn’t too strong a word. Men are dying on average six years younger than women due to largely preventable reasons. We are bad at presenting symptoms of things like prostate cancer early, don’t take responsibility for our health and live by an out-dated stereotype that we have to be strong and silent,” he says.
Ben is nursing a badly swollen knee following a ‘spectacular’ Dirtquake crash when we arrive at his home in the leafy suburbs of London, but in the scheme of things he has dealt and is dealing with, it is – to quote Monty Python – a “minor flesh wound”.
He’s serious in demeanour, but chip away and he has a dry sense of humour that comes with the territory of coping with major surgery, medication and the psychological aftermath of both. He is also indebted to the thousands of Triumph riders who have made the Distinguished Gentleman’s Ride the global success it is today.
The DGR was founded in 2012 by Mark Hawwa in Sydney, Australia and has raised millions of dollars which has been poured back into research and support projects. With the support of official charity partner Movember, the partnership continues to address the taboos that still surround mens’ health.
The Movember mission, along with key partner Triumph – which has agreed to extend and increase its support until 2020 – is to encourage men to have more shoulder-to-shoulder conversations and act on them rather than hoping for the best. He adds: “There’s still a long way to go in terms of educating men that a 30-second blood test could save their life. They say it will lead to a world of worry, but the alternative is stark. You could die.”
The 100,000 riders of classic and vintage motorcycles at DGRs in 90 countries over four years have raised millions of dollars, which is now funding crucial life-changing research, diagnosis, treatment and care programmes globally.
Testicular cancer survivor Ben estimates the partnership between DGR, Movember and support of sponsors such as Triumph has significantly improved the lives of men around the world, with the movement being the largest investor in prostate cancer research outside government: “We’ve funded more than 1,200 programmes and we are starting to see results.
“Research outcomes take time, but we believe our target of halving the number of premature deaths from testicular and prostate cancer – the second most common in men – is achievable by 2030, when we estimate that 1.7 million will be living with it.”
“Every year the riders taking part up their game in the dapper stakes, so we can’t wait to see what our fundraising riders have in store this time,” says Ben.
This year’s Distinguished Gentleman’s Ride will see a subtle shift in the registration process, with a slightly stronger emphasis on the fundraising element, says Ben: “So many men around the planet owe the riders who have taken part a massive thank you because without their financial support, they might not be here today.
“We’re going to be incentivising the fundraising this time, so when people register they’ll be asked to buy a couple of moustache stickers to put on their headlight and tank on the day. It’s very much a free event, but if every rider raises even a few dollars and our big fundraisers keep doing their stuff, it makes a huge difference around the world. ”
Fundraising sprints over a fortnight and tiered prizes – including Hedon helmets, a Triumph Thruxton and Zenith watch – for the most heavily sponsored riders will heighten the international competition and, as Ben puts it, “change the world”.
“DGR is a fun event underlaid by serious messages. One, that we have to raise awareness and change behaviours among men and two, to support those men who have confronted their health issues and need support,” says Ben.
“Taking a PSA test for prostate cancer is something every man should do, especially after 50. If it gets flagged, there are all sorts of levels – tigers and pussy cats I call them because some cancers are more severe than others – and sometimes it might be just a case of taking a watch-and-wait approach. If it’s not, then it’s better to face it head-on like women would and get it beaten.”
Seven years ago in the middle of treatment for his second bout of cancer, Ben was blessed with a daughter, Daisy: “She was a miracle really, but it made me think it was fate that I was allowed to stay on to do something good and save other lives. Seeing your children grow up has to be a good enough reason for tackling this crisis head-on.” But he admits candidly: “I have down days when I’m mentally quite low and like everyone I put on a mask, but I’ve learned to realise it’s not taboo to talk about it and to say ‘hey, I’m struggling’ is not a weakness. It’s a strength. We need men to have more conversations like that.”
To find out more about the pioneering research work your DGR has funded and will continue to support, fundraising tips, important dates and how to register for the 24 September event nearest to you, visit www.gentlemansride.com and to discover how you can save lives, visit Movember’s Riding for a Cause page.