Next month Coca-Cola Great Britain senior customer manager, Jonathan McGowan will be ‘out of office’ for a slightly different reason. He’ll be taking on a 500km bike ride across Madagascar to raise money for Ronald McDonald Houses, a charity that means a great deal to him.

A few years ago, in a tragic turn of events, Jonathan’s six-year-old son, George, was diagnosed with a rare and life-threatening illness. It was a dark time for the family, with endless late-night trips to different hospitals in his hometown of Liverpool. Jonathan would sleep in a pull up bed next to his son, while his wife and daughter reluctantly drove home every evening.

One morning, after hearing that George might need surgery, a nurse informed him that she’d put his family’s name down for a local Ronald McDonald House, which provides free ‘home away from home’ accommodation for those visiting patients at specialist children’s hospitals. There, they could be near George, maintain a sense of normal family life and pinch a few hours of much-needed sleep.

"For Jonathan, it was crucial for keeping his family together, and allowing him to be close to his son when he needed him most."

Due to the severity of George’s condition a room quickly became available, and the family spent seven nights there. For Jonathan, it was crucial for keeping his family together, and allowing him to be close to his son when he needed him most. A few days later George began to show signs of his usual self, and has since been on a road to recovery.

Feeling indebted to the charity, which Coca-Cola also supports, Jonathan now volunteers at a local Ronald McDonald House and is on the board of governors. Next month he’ll be pedalling for even more support by taking on a 500km bike ride across Madagascar, an island nation off the southeast coast of Africa, to raise money for the charity. Read more about it in the interview below…

Have you been to Madagascar before?
No, I haven’t. And I never thought I’d be going for a reason like this!

How did friends and family react when you told them?
On the whole they’ve been very supportive. My wife initially said “That’s fantastic, but you’re crazy! You’re not a cyclist and never have been. How are you going to do this?”

Who are you going with?
There’s 28 of us, from restaurant staff, franchisees, suppliers, head office staff and my colleague Paul Jekyll who works here at Coca-Cola too. There’s a support bus and a doctor who cycles with us, so it’s as safe as these things can be. The route is meticulously planned, and we know where we’re staying in advance. All of the risk has been analysed, but it doesn’t stop you getting a flat tyre on a busy road!

What made you want to do it?
It’s an opportunity to give back, visit a country you wouldn’t normally get to visit and get fit at the same time. I’m hoping to raise £6,000, which covers the cost of a family staying away from home for around 240 nights. And there’s still not enough Houses. There are lots of hospitals being developed that are not necessarily getting the House that they need to go with it, because there’s a funding gap.

"I’m hoping to raise £6,000 which covers the cost of a family staying away from home for 240 nights."

What do you think will be the biggest challenge?
For me I would say it’s going to be sitting in the saddle for eight hours a day every day. I think my legs are fine and that I’ve got the stamina to do it, but it’s going to be that aching backside which will be the main challenge.

How is training going?
Since September I’ve done about 600km training so that’s going ok, I need to be averaging more than 100km a week so I’m getting some big rides out at the weekend, and then pinching 10 or 20 after work during the week. It’s going well but I’m getting sore!

How will you celebrate when you finish?
I’ll probably get on FaceTime to my wife and kids share the news with them, and maybe have a few drinks with the team afterwards – Coca-Cola Zero Sugar, of course.

The Madagascar cycle challenge takes place from 3 – 12 November. You can read more about Jonathan’s story and support him by donating to Ronald McDonald House Charities on his JustGiving page.