It has been 11 years since I first started fundraising and taking part in some amazing physical challenges. Challenges that have led me to climbing to the summit of Kilimanjaro, standing opposite Mount Everest, cycling the length of Britain in 10 days and running the London marathon. Since 2007, I have raised over £32,000 / $40,000 for four UK based charities, Make A Wish, Scope, Bliss and Acorns Children’s Hospice. I have also written a successful charity cookbook, which is still available to buy, Milla’s Inspiration
Each charity supported my daughter Milla, who was severely disabled after an extreme pemature birth. Milla had cerebral palsy and was unable to speak or walk and required 24 hour a day care. Sadly Milla passed away in December 2016 aged 10. She was my motivation to fundraise and to do these tough endurance challenges, and she remains my motivation. As does her twin sister Louisa.
Next month I will be embarking on another charity challenge. To cycle from Aberystwyth on the west coast of Wales to Lowestoft on the east coast of England in 3 days. A distance of 330 miles or 531 kilometres. A challenge not only in the distances to be cycled each day, but with the added challenge the topography and climate Britain presents every time you venture out on a bicycle.
We have been blessed with months of heatwave, continuous temperatures in the high 20’s to mid 30’s. Weeks and weeks of unbroken sunshine and beautiful clear blue skies and gentle breezes. But of course, all good things come to an end and the weather has changed noticeably. The first rains have returned and temperatures have cooled. Wet and windy weather is on the horizon and you sense autumn is round the corner.
Cycling from one side of the country to the other will involve not only the possibility of rain and wind (and no matter where you cycle, the wind always seems to be against you; it is a curious law of British physics), but a constant up and down over the hills of mid Wales and Central England. While the third and final day of the ride will be through the flattest part of the country in the Fenland of East Anglia (also known as Little Holland), the legs will have endured sufficient punishment. The final day will be no picnic and gentle ride to the beach side finish line.
On previous cycle challenges, I have been fortunate to have my oldest and best friend, Simon Whitton, in support. While I slogged the miles on the bike, he drove the car, loaded with spare bike gear, clothes, food, maps and anything else required. My job was unencumbered, just turn the pedals and keep going. Simon would set off a couple of hours after me, catch up and then leap ahead to rendezvous en route, whilst taking the chance to visit charity bookshops in the small towns we passed through, before greeting me with words of encouragement, a reviving pastry and a cup of tea from a cafe.
But not this time. Simon is otherwise engaged sadly. And I will be unsupported. Though that is not entirely true. While I will be carrying all my gear, ‘bikepacking’ as it is known, I will be joined for the ride by another wonderful friend, Guy Stapleford – or as he is known to many ‘Miles For Wishes‘. Guy has been actively fundraising for Make A Wish by undertaking some amazing physical endurance challenges, from climbing and cycling between the highest mountains in Scotland, England and Wales, to running marathons and also cycling from John O’Groats to Lands End. but unlike me, he did it unsupported and in 9 days, not 10. An amazing inspiration and someone who has motivated me to continue to fundraise for Make A Wish.
We will fight our way by train (two bikes, saddle bags, commuters…could be fun) to Aberystwyth on the Welsh Coast carrying as little as possible, before setting off the following morning on a 110 mile route through the lumpy Cambrian mountain range and the Shropshire Hills.
Make A Wish UK
This challenge is in memory of Milla and raising money for Make A Wish UK. In 2012 Make A Wish granted Milla a wish and our family travelled to Disney World in Florida to spend a magical week at the Give Kids The World Village; a purpose built holiday village for children with life limiting conditions. Each child and their families were given VIP passes to all the Disney parks and the week was one that created memories that endure today. And that is the point. And the reason why, at age 50, I will continue to raise money for Make A Wish by doing these challenges.
Make A Wish help children to achieve a dream. A wish is more than a dream. It is an affirmation of who they are. They are wonderful children with amazing personalities and a right to experience happiness. A right to be treated as children and to have fun, to be happy, to make their own memories. Not just to be a number on a hospital appointment card, or to have their fun and a chance to play replaced by constant doctors visits, hospital admissions, operations, treatments, medicines. Childhood is a place where memories should be made. And Make A Wish ensure those memories are positive, happy and enduring. Not only for the children. They deserve all the happiness. But also their families, who get so much joy from seeing their child, their brother or sister relaxed, not thinking about their pain or discomfort. The smiles and laughter each memory, each wish brings, are the moments that stay with you. And believe me, it is Milla’s beautiful smile and her wonderful warmth and laughter, despite all her difficulties, that I remember every day. And Make A Wish giving us the chance to be a family, on a holiday together, created so many wonderful memories that the pain of losing Milla is lessened a little when I think of that time.
I am setting out to cycle across the UK, from West to East and as an experienced cyclist, I know what I am about to face. Each day around 7 hours in the saddle, maybe more. It will hurt. I am not built for hills. Not going up anyway. Saddle sores will be a problem, my back and my neck will ache. I will experience tiredness and at times it will be a struggle. But this is nothing compared to the pain and struggle these children go through every day. Nor the unending cycle of broken sleep and exhaustion their parents face. I have experienced weeks on end where Milla was awake all night. My suffering, my pain will be present, yet temporary. In a few days following the challenge, the memories of the discomfort will be pushed to the back of my mind. What will remain are images of stunning scenery, companionship and friendship on the bike with Guy and a sense, I hope, of achievement upon completing the challenge.
So I wish to complete the challenge and to raise £500 or more for Make A Wish. So that they can continue to let children have the happiness they deserve, some pleasure and a time away from pain and discomfort, to focus on them as people and children in their own right, not as patients. To give the families a chance to relax and to see the happiness a wish gives their child and to feel happy too. And to create memories that last a lifetime. Although as I know with Milla, that lifetime may not be very long. But the memories help you through the darkest days and sustain you always.
If you can help by donating to my fundraising page , I would be very grateful. The total currently stands at over £200. Any donation is welcome and every pound makes a huge difference.