THE annual Downslink Challenge charity bike ride this year will be raising money to support a young West End woman who has Tourette’s Syndrome.

Lauren Wyatt, 20, who works at The Garibaldi pub in Knaphill – the Downslink base – has been suffering from a variety of severe and debilitating facial and verbal tics for the past three years.

“I’ve had tics since I was about eight, but they were very simple and didn’t really impact my life,” Lauren said.

“When I was 17, I donated blood, which caused a seizure that led to the tics becoming very bad.

“It’s different every day. Some are blinking and grimaces and I’ve got verbal tics when I say sentences or phrases that can manifest itself through swearing and inappropriate phrases.”

As well as working at the Garibaldi, Lauren is a learning support assistant at Wishmore Cross Academy, a boarding school for children with social and emotional health needs in Chobham.

She receives various therapies for her condition, including Botox injections and comprehensive behavioural intervention therapy, which help her to have some control over the tics.

Lauren has also been taught coping mechanisms, such as using fidget toys and keeping her resting hand occupied to make tasks with the other hand easier.

The money raised by the Downslink Challenge is split between Woking and Sam Beare Hospice and another charity.

The chosen charity for the ride on Saturday 3 June is Tourettes Action.

“Last year I was lucky enough to go to Finland with them as part of the 2020 Tourette’s Exchange,” said Lauren.

“Me and about 10 others from the UK were flown to Finland to meet about 40 people with Tourettes from five countries.’’

Lauren went to Oaktree, Hermitage and The Winston Churchill schools and was at Woking College when the Tourettes became bad.

“I had to go to college part-time because my tics impacted every area of my life,” she said.

“I couldn’t walk properly, I couldn’t feed myself or drink out of a glass. The college were amazing and put in a lot of accommodations for me.

“The majority of the students were very accepting and understanding. But others didn’t believe me and said I was faking it. That was quite horrible.”

Lauren said she has found working in the pub a great way to educate people.

“A lot of people think of it as ‘that swearing disease’, but only 10 to 15 per cent of people with Tourette’s have Coprolalia, which is the socially inappropriate phrases and swearing.

“Many of the customers say I’m the first person with Tourettes they have met, so it’s good to chat to them about it.”

Downslink day this year will include the return of a fun day at the Garibaldi, with entertainment and stalls, and music in the evening from Woking band Blackbird.

“The hospice have given us a signed Chelsea shirt to auction,” said Steve McKeown, the Downslink organiser.

Lauren said she would love to do the bike ride but is prevented by another medical condition. She is hoping to have a stall at the fun day, selling jewellery and art she creates, with at least 25% of the profits to Tourettes Action – which she says has given her “amazing” help.

Steve said there are plenty of places available for riders for the 96-mile Century Ride, which starts and ends in Knaphill, following the Downslink bridleway that connects the North Downs Way and South Downs Way, or the 48-mile Challenge from Brighton to Knaphill.

“At the moment we have about 30 riders, but before lockdown we were getting 60 to 70 riders a year,” said Steve.

The event has raised nearly £140,000 since it started in 2016 but has been interrupted by the pandemic and coinciding with the Queen’s Diamond Jubilee.

“I also think the interest in cycling is dwindling. It all kicked off with the 2012 Olympics and everybody started riding.

“We’ve now had 10 years of that and I think people have just found other things to do.”

He is hoping the return of the fun day, and the chance to help the hospice and Tourettes Action will encourage more entrants.

“It’s open to anyone aged 18 and over. It’s just £46 to enter and we transport people doing the Challenge ride to Brighton.’’

FOR more information and to enter one of the rides, email [email protected].