Friday 24 November 2017

The chosen charity for 2018

It's been a very busy 12 months full of research, planning and preparation for stage 5 of the run around the world. One thing is for sure, the 2900 mile route from Belgrade to Astana promises to be the most difficult yet on many fronts. The logistics have, at times, appeared to be almost unfathomable. I've lost a lot of sleep wondering how on earth I would be able to make it a success.

The first hurdle to overcome, of course, was to attract the required commercial backing to make the venture worthwhile. I wanted enough money to cover the costs of the tour but also a huge chunk of money to benefit the charities. SOS Group didn't hesitate in continuing as main sponsor. Chapman Ventilation, Fresh Freight Group, Active Edge, D-Line, Virgin Money, Northumberland Tea and Brooks were added soon after and Primal Fitness and Performance more recently. Thanks to all of those companies for their kind support. They have all helped to raise almost £25,000 so far in 2017 (£6837.59 for Useful Vision and £17,382.10 for The Children's Foundation). They are going to continue to help me smash my target of £50,000 for this current fundraising campaign which will give an overall total raised of over £320,000. That's some amazing support and generosity. Without the kind sponsors it just wouldn't be possible. 

The next hurdle was figuring out how to run 1000s of miles without a support team. To that end, it is thanks to my sponsor, Chapman Ventilation, that we now have "Chappie" aka the Chapman Ventilation Around The World Buggy. It will be my home for the remaining 11,000 miles around the world. It's a very impressive craft to look at "in the flesh" and reminds me of a life boat or some kind of space capsule. We will certainly be having many adventures and turning a lot of heads together in the year to come.

Once Donna and I were happy to proceed with stage 5 it was time to approach a charity to ask for permission to fundraise. 

2017 has given me a chance to have a really good think about where I want to concentrate my fundraising efforts going forwards. Of course, this year away from the run around the world, I've really enjoyed raising funds for Useful Vision. At the time of writing, almost £7000 has been raised. With 6 weeks of the year remaining I'm hopeful of getting the final total close to £8500. I always enjoy visiting their website and Facebook page. It's obvious to me that they put the money raised to great use to support vision impaired children and their families with many different activities. 

I knew very early this year which charity that I intended to approach for permission to fundraise once Donna and I would eventually sign off stage 5. In fact, it was the 9th of March when I chose St Benedict's Hospice as a potential charity. That is a very significant date for me as you will see below. I wrote the following over 10 years ago.

"The staff and services provided by St Benedict's Hospice made my Mam's final days battling cancer more dignified and taught us both how to, what she and I called, "live with cancer". 

My Mam attended the day care unit at the Hospice on a weekly basis for many months. It was during this time that the assessment and management of her treatment was undertaken by the specialist Hospice staff. It was certainly a bit of respite and relief for me, knowing my Mam was in good hands for a day receiving the kind of care and attention that I know she really appreciated. She often talked about the staff as if they were a bunch of her good friends. 

My Mam was admitted to the Hospice on the 27th December 1994. She spent a week there having her medication regulated and trying to get better and returned home with a renewed confidence to battle the cancer that she had and also support me while I did my 3rd year University exams. I passed with flying colours thanks to her support. 

The 20th February 1995 saw her return to the Hospice. Her condition had worsened and there she stayed until her passing away on the 9th March 1995. I feel I owe St Benedict's Hospice a huge debt of gratitude. If I can help them, in any small way, to continue to provide the kind of services to other terminally ill people in the region, then I will. 

This isn't just something I intend to do for a short time. I'd like to think I'll always try and raise funds for St Benedict's Hospice. Indeed, 2004 will be the 10th year of fundraising activities. I hope, in years to come, my son Jack will also have a part to play in this. And hopefully the support of my family and friends will continue. It's their money that is going to the Hospice after all."

I visited the hospice recently and presented my plans to run from Belgrade through Serbia, Romania, Ukraine, Russia to Astana in Kazakhstan. The visit also gave me a chance to have a look around the new hospice building. It goes without saying that I was very impressed and humbled with what I saw.  

To my huge relief, permission was granted to fundraise for the hospice in respect of stage 5 of the run around the world. For once, I didn't have a plan B so I'm pleased that I'm able to continue to repay the debt of gratitude that has never gone away.

For me personally, it's hard to describe just how good it feels to have a personal connection back to my fundraising. I was very close to both of my parents. To lose them both when I was young was, and still is, a difficult thing to cope with. My Dad died in 1988 when I was 17. I was 23 when my Mam died in 1995.

I'll be talking a lot more about St Benedict's Hospice over the coming months. For now, I'll close this blog with a part of the speech I gave when I announced my plans to run around the world in 2014.

"When my parents were taken from me when I was just a young man I could have done 1 of 2 things. I could have let the grief consume me and tear me apart (I must admit that it nearly did) or I could do something positive and put to good use the debt of gratitude I feel to local charities for at least trying to help my parents and for making their final days battling cancer as comfortable and dignified as possible. 

Fortunately, I chose the latter option and it has helped to ease the burden of grief that I have carried with me every day since I lost my parents. It is a most terrible dark feeling that is as painful in my heart right now as it was all of those years ago. Thankfully, through fundraising, I have found a way to control and even some days numb the pain. 

There is no doubt in my mind that raising funds for good causes has been as beneficial to me as it has to them and the beneficiaries of their charitable good deeds. 

Ladies and gentlemen, I do realise that my story is no different to many other peoples’ in this room today or in the street outside. We have all lost loved ones. It’s what we do, in their memory, for the greater good of others that is so very important.".

Saturday 11 November 2017

The Road to Astana gets the green light

After spending the last 12 months looking at the many aspects of segment five of the run around the world we (Donna and I) have decided that it will go ahead as planned, starting on the 1st May 2018. 

The original route that I proposed back in 2014 via Turkey and Georgia into Russia is an absolute non starter for safety reasons. The advice from the UK government regarding the route into Russia between the Black Sea and Caspian Sea is either "advise against all travel" or "advise against all but essential travel". 

It seems that the the decision made last year, to finish segment four early in Belgrade rather than Istanbul, was a very wise one. As planned, this has given us a chance to get back home, regroup and come up with the safest plan possible for the remaining 11,000 miles around the world. That plan now involves taking a more northerly route.

It will take 100 days (91 days x 31 miles and 9 rest days) to run the unsupported 2821 mile route from Belgrade, Serbia through Romania, Ukraine, Russia to Astana Kazakhstan. It doesn't look that far in the images below but it's almost the same width as my route across the USA.

We are under no illusions that running and pulling Chappie, aka the Chapman Ventilation Around The World Buggy for such a considerable distance is going to be easy. I'm looking at the positives though, as having a support team isn't always the easiest and happiest experience for me. Also, not having an RV is a relief after the damage that was inflicted on the one we had last year as a result of an unfortunate accident. This time, I'm in full control of the outcome. I'm very excited and in many ways relieved about that. I'll restate, though, that it's going to be very very difficult.

I'm also genuinely excited about what I call the "adventure" aspect of the Road to Astana. Cooking for myself, ensuring that I have enough food and water, tending to my feet, finding safe places to "park up" and sleep etc etc. Now let's have this conversation again after 1,500 miles when I'm in the middle of Russia! Let's see just how much I'm "excited" then!  

I will be sending my plans to my chosen charity next week and will seek the official sign off from them before the end of November. Following that there are two further obstacles to overcome. The first is getting a Russian visa. The second is coming up with a plan to transport Chappie safely to the start line in Serbia to and back from the finish line in Kazakhstan. To say that segment five of the run around the world is going to be the trickiest to complete is an absolute understatement. Just getting to the start line is taking a huge amount of planning.

I must thank those kind people who have helped keep my dream of raising at least another £50,000 for local causes alive. Thank you to my main sponsor SOS Group Ltd, Chapman Ventilation who have paid for the construction of Chappie and also FFG Logistics, Active Edge, D-Line Cable Management, Brooks, Virgin Money UK, Primal Fitness and Performance and Northumberland Tea for their amazing support.

Thanks also to James "Jimmy" Childs who is continuing his task of looking at my route in great detail.

Thanks also to the many supporters who have made a donation to The Children's Foundation and Useful Vision in 2017. The current fundraising total for 2017 stands at £23,913.70 with an overall total of 291,539.35. Watch this space in the next few weeks for news of the 2018 charity upon successful sign off.