He's faced some of the fastest bowlers to play the game and took Australia to where few Test sides have ever gone, but Steve Waugh says climbing the Italian Alps in preparation for his upcoming Captain's Ride was the hardest physical challenge of his life.
The former Test skipper is gearing up for the Steve Waugh Foundation's third annual charity bike ride, a gruelling six-day, 801-kilometre cycling event which this year will be held in Tasmania early next month.
A far cry from the kind of leisurely exercise most charity fundraisers demand, the Captain's Ride features more than 10,000 metres of climbing with riders to make tracks all over the Apple Isle. The ride begins and ends in Hobart, with stops in Launceston, Devonport, Cradle Mountain, Strahan and Tarraleah.
Waugh's lofty goal for the event is to raise more than a million dollars for the SWF, which provides medicine, specialised equipment and medical treatment for Australian children with rare diseases.
And with the likes of 2011 Tour de France winner Cadel Evans and star cyclist Richie Porte taking part in this year's ride, Waugh has stepped up his preparations a notch.
"I went to Italy about three months ago and did some riding in the Alps out there, which was a real challenge, the hardest thing I've ever done," Waugh told cricket.com.au this week.
"Someone said, 'come over to Italy for a bit of training'. It sounded like a good idea, but when I got there, in the Dolomite mountains, it was just straight up.
"There were no flat bits and it was eight days of torture basically. We did some famous climbs.
"I think the best part about that was that I learned how not to give in to the bike, you should just keep going, get through the pain.
"There were a lot of steep mountains, sometimes we were descending for 45 minutes to an hour at a time, so I learnt a lot of skills about cycling, which was important for me.
"I wanted to get to that next level, so I know a bit more about what I was doing on the bike."
Never one to shirk an uphill battle, Waugh knows the physical pain of the climb pales into insignificance when compared with the struggles of the children his Foundation supports.
With Formula One driver Mark Webber, ex-AFL star Adam Goodes, as well as Olympians Daley Thompson, Drew Ginn and Shane Gould all joining in the ride, Waugh hopes to draw attention to the plight of the "orphans" of the health system.
"(While) we wanted to create an event that was a life experience for the people who were taking part, we also wanted to emulate the spirit of our kids who do it tough each and every day," Waugh said.
"They’ve shown the most courage and character against the odds, so the ride is meant to be tough.
"We do it for six days, the kids and the families do it every day.
"We’re the only standalone charity in Australia that … caters to the extremely rare conditions, the ones that have got no support from either charity or government funding because they don't meet the criteria of all these other charities.
"We know the kids and families really well, some of them we’ve been dealing with for over 10 years now.
"It’s like a big family and these are often referred to as the orphans of the health system, without funding, without research, without treatment, without diagnoses often.
"So we aim to stand besides these kids, give them a voice and raise awareness."
The Foundation this year is partnering with a 3D sculpting company to bring hand-drawn pictures of celebrity riders to life in the form of miniature figurines.
The sculptures have been used to create stop-motion advertising videos (think Wallace and Gromit-style animation) that recreate the Captain's Ride.
"We always try and get our kids involved in what we’re doing and in a lot of ways they're our VIPs and they're our stars," Waugh said.
"This year we wanted to get them heavily involved and a lot of the kids have done artwork, so they’ve done some drawings of some of the VIP riders and their pieces of equipment that the foundation has sponsored them with.
"These 15-second adverts around these kids’ artwork … will be turned into figurines and that raises awareness for the cause and in turn they're raising money for themselves."
The Captain's Ride this year will be held from Nov 5-10. To follow the progress of the ride and to make a donation, please visit www.captainsride.com.au