JOE Skarz has taken on a mammoth fitness challenge this month after the coronavirus pandemic touched his family.

The former Oxford United left back bought a road bike just before lockdown because his own condition made him high-risk, and he is now cycling 100 miles per day through May.

It will see him clock up at least 3,100 miles – more than 1,000 miles further than last year’s Tour de France.

The gruelling task came from a determination to do something positive after Skarz’s fiancee’s cousin Joanne Smith died aged 40 last month after contracting coronavirus.

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She had a two-year-old daughter Sophia, who will receive a trust fund from the money raised by the cycling challenge.

“I was sat at home one night and thought ‘I want to do something for Sophia and the family to raise a bit of money for them’,” Skarz said.

“I spoke to someone about it the other day and they said even 50 miles a day is quite bad.

“I don’t know why I picked 100, it just came into my head.

“I’m enjoying it. I won’t lie, some days I don’t want to do it, but I’m committed now.”

The hilly terrain around his home in Holmfirth, West Yorkshire, only adds to the difficulty.

Banbury Cake:

  • Joe Skarz in an ice bath at the end of another long ride

Some of the mileage has been covered on an exercise bike, but the majority has been on his last purchase before the country was put into lockdown.

He said: “I have a blood disease called Wiskott-Aldrich syndrome, which means I’m high risk for this virus.

“Because of that I was told I couldn’t go near anybody for 12 weeks, so I thought I could go on the bike and still be OK.

“The next day I got out and got the hang of it.

“I think I’ve done a few more miles than I should have done, but if I’ve done 120 miles I won’t just do 80 the next day. It’s got to be 100 a day at least.”

Skarz made 107 appearances for the U’s in a two-and-a-half year spell which included promotion from Sky Bet League Two in 2015/16.

He now splits his time between coaching in Sheffield United’s academy and when football returns the defender will turn out for semi-professional side Golcar United.

But the 30-year-old remains good friends with several of his former teammates, especially Simon Eastwood, and has kept a close eye on the U’s.

“I’ve got a good balance in my life now, with a lot of family time,” Skarz, whose daughter Millie turns five this week, said.

“I don’t miss full-time football, but I miss the time we had at Oxford.

“When I look back at that team I think ‘how did I even get in it?’

“You look through the team with George (Baldock) and Lunny (John Lundstram) in the Premier League, Jake Wright got promoted to the Championship, Chey (Dunkley)’s playing at Wigan every week. Roofey (Kemar Roofe), even Mags (Chris Maguire) and Callum (O'Dowda).

“The team we had was special.

“You look at that team and think ‘wow, we should have won that league by Christmas, never mind going up on the last day’.

“It would be brilliant if Oxford got promoted this season.”

“I hope they do, I think on paper they’ve got the best team in the league.”

To donate to the challenge, follow this link.