Ex-GB sled dog racer claims victory at Wales Care Awards

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A former Great Britain sled dog racer who achieved European fame competing in some of the world’s most challenging races has won gold again – this time in the national care awards.

Nick Evans, 49, travelled the globe with his dedicated team of Greenland Huskies in an action-packed professional racing career – once crossing the Arctic ice cap in temperatures of -50C in a journey that lasted three months.

The former GB athlete, who is chief executive of domiciliary care charity Cymryd Rhan based in Llandrindod Wells, Powys, overseeing home care support services for vulnerable citizens across eight Welsh counties, has now scooped the top prize in the Excellence in Leadership and Management in Supported Living or Small Group Community Living category, sponsored by Cartref Ni Ltd & Home Instead Senior Care, in the Wales Care Awards 2019.

The national awards are organised by care industry champions Care Forum Wales and acknowledge the exceptional work and dedication of those in the care sector.

Nick, who lives with his wife, HR worker Esther, 50, in Old Hall, Llanidloes, Powys, collected his prize at a glittering ceremony at Cardiff City Hall, hosted by tenor and radio presenter Wynne Evans, better known as Gio Compario from the Go Compare TV adverts.

“I was incredibly proud. It was absolutely fantastic to be recognised and to be in the company of so many amazing individuals working in the care sector. I was honoured to be part of that,” said Nick, who studied drama at what is now known as Banbury and Bicester College in Oxfordshire, where he was born.

“Health and social care is going through a difficult time and it’s important to remember the lengths people go through to make improvements for the people who need help and support. To be recognised as one of these people is very, very humbling.

“This award is for Cymryd Rhan. I might have collected it on stage but I certainly couldn’t do it without such amazing individuals within Cymryd Rhan.”

Nick, who was born near Bicester in Oxfordshire, grew up in a household of Greenland Huskies, which his mum trained for television and film appearances.

Growing up on film and TV sets, Nick initially wanted to become an actor and during childhood appeared on The Generation Game, Russ Abbot’s Christmas Special and several children’s television programmes with his huskies.

After leaving his drama course, he was recruited to provide drama therapy to children with learning disabilities at the Frank Wise School in Oxfordshire before being approached to deliver similar activities at a day care centre for adults in Oxfordshire.

He progressed into management and remained at the day care centre for the next nine years before being asked to become an operational lead officer and develop a new community-based health and social care service on behalf of Oxfordshire County Council.

Following a decade in social care, Nick opted for a complete career change and trained as a police officer for Dyfed Powys Police where he patrolled as a beat bobby for the next four years.

It was then time for a career break and a new challenge, and Nick embarked on the first of his polar travel adventures, following his passion of racing huskies which he had enjoyed since childhood.

Sled dog racing is a winter sport most popular in the Arctic regions of the US, Canada, Russia, Greenland and some European countries, involving teams of sled dogs that pull a sled with the dog or “musher” standing on the runners for anything up to 1,000 miles over a 14 day period.

One of Nick’s most notable achievements was crossing the Arctic ice cap in 2005 using antique navigational equipment including a compass and theodolite from 1911, and wearing reindeer skin boots and tweed clothing.

“My dogs were better travelled than most people,” said Nick, who secured tens of thousands of pounds in sponsorship to race in Scandinavia, Europe, North America and Alaska.

“At that time I had 26 huskies. I kept them in a purpose built kennel at home in Oxfordshire and they were eating £18,000 a year of food. When you’re racing 120 miles a day in those conditions, you have to have the best of everything. They’re incredible athletes.”

As the UK’s only international sled dog racer at the time, Nick competed in the world’s two biggest sled dog racing events; the La Grande Odyssée Savoie Mont Blanc in the French Alps, which is only available to the top 20 sled dog teams in the world, and the Iditarod Trail Sled Dog Race in Alaska.

“I raced sled dogs for 28 years of my life but it was only much later on that I became professional,” said Nick, whose mum, Jennifer Evans, was selected for the Olympic rifle shooting team in the 1960s although never travelled due to lack of sponsorship.

“I went from being a police officer with a mortgage and a detailed career path to racing dogs.

“When you’re travelling to the Arctic and competing in these kinds of races, you’re not surrounded by four or five other home teams – you’re the only one. You quickly earn yourself the reputation of the GB team and I was very proud of that.

“Everybody knew my name in Europe and then I’d come home through the channel tunnel and nobody batted an eyelid!”

Having achieved his dreams, Nick returned to Wales after eight years and secured employment with Powys County Council as part of its Supported Housing commissioning team. An opportunity then arose in December 2015 to lead Cymryd Rhan and Nick was recruited as chief executive.

It was the senior management team at Cymryd Rhan which nominated Nick for his award.

“I think one of the things I learnt very early on is that I have an unquestioning commitment towards people and the things that matter to them,” he said.

“During a really chaotic time in social care one of our key strengths has been to continually ask ourselves why do something if it doesn’t add value to someone’s life?

“We’ve changed the way we deliver services and have gone back to the basics of valuing people. I work with an amazing bunch of people all of whom have amazing values about people.

“All of the experiences I’ve had in my life and the achievements have helped me. I feel very, very lucky.”

Mario Kreft, chairman of Care Forum Wales, said the standard of entries was extremely high.

He added: “There are only winners here tonight so it is only fitting that the finalists will receive a gold, silver or bronze Wales Care Award.

“I trust that they will continue to inspire those around them as role models and encourage others to aspire to even greater heights and in the months and years to come.

“This awards ceremony is our opportunity to pay tribute and to celebrate the talent and commitment that is improving the quality of life for thousands and thousands of people throughout Wales.

“We take our hats off to them.”