Tomorrow’s annual Westpac Chopper Appeal Bike Ride from Queenstown to Invercargill — a Lakes District Air Rescue Trust fundraiser — probably has more more meaning for Queenstown’s Stephen Hebbend than any other rider.

Hebbend – who’s pictured (right) with Southland MP Joseph Mooney – lost his wife, Joanne, to Hodgkin’s lymphoma in late March.

But he says she’d have probably died 18 months earlier if it hadn’t been for two rescue helicopter mercy dashes to Dunedin Hospital.

This will be the 63-year-old’s ninth ride, but understandably he’s not had the time to devote to training he’s had in other years.

However, his fundraising’s been going great guns, and by early this week he’d raised $4150.

And over the years he estimates he’s raised between $25,000 and $30,000.

Hebbend’s also stoked this 13th ride will probably see the $1 million barrier broken.

He says the 230km ride, starting 6am tomorrow, is a bit like speed dating.

‘‘You’ve got 100 people and you know very few of them, but they change over [riders] every 10 minutes at the front, so you’re talking to someone different all the time.

‘‘It just breaks it up — suddenly you’re in Five Rivers, next minute you’re in Lumsden.’’

Star riders this year include All Blacks great Richie McCaw and his wife, Black Sticks champion Gemma McCaw, 2012 Olympic gold medal-winning rower Nathan Cohen and broadcaster Paddy Gower.

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No bike, no training? No problem

Mooney, meanwhile, could be in for the ride of his life tomorrow.

The 45-year-old’s a first-time entrant in the Chopper Bike Ride – and he hasn’t actually been on a road bike in about 25 years.

He reckons the last time he road a length similar to tomorrow’s 230km jaunt, expected to take 12 hours, was when he first came through the region, on a mountain bike, in the early 2000s.

Borrowing a bike for tomorrow’s ride, Mooney, who’s also not got any extra seat padding, admits he hasn’t actually done any training, either.

‘‘I’m not averse to throwing myself in the deep end, going for it and seeing how it turns out,’’ he laughs.

‘‘I’m looking forward to it … it’ll be quite a cool experience to ride from Queenstown to Invercargill in one day, drop in on a few schools along the way, [through] a very good part of the heart of the electorate, and, most importantly, support a really good cause.’’

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