MIND OVER MILES…
Grandad Stephen Taylor set himself a massive challenge in 2018, to walk from Land’s End to John o’Groats in aid of the Cystic Fibrosis Trust – and he did it raising an enormous amount for the charity, writes Gail Bailey
Inspired by his seven-year-old grandson Thomas, Stephen Taylor (Ram to his friends) set himself the massive challenge at the beginning of 2018 to walk the entire length of the United Kingdom to raise money for the life-limiting condition Cystic Fibrosis from which Thomas suffers. Cystic Fibrosis (CF) is a genetic condition affecting more than 10,400 people in the UK – one in 25 of us carries the faulty gene that causes it, usually without knowing. People with CF experience a wide range of challenging symptoms affecting the entire body.
Cystic Fibrosis can critically escalate at any moment, destroying the lungs and digestive system. As the lungs deteriorate often the only hope of lengthening life for some sufferers comes from a lung transplant: “I’d set myself the LEJOG challenge and then just got on with life and started to train a little! But then I read an article about an 11-year-old CF sufferer, Elle, who had died following complications from her double lung transplant – and it broke my heart,” explained Stephen.
“When we set off from Land’s End on the first day of July 2018 I was on a mission, I became selfish, determined and downright stubborn, nothing absolutely nothing was going to get in the way, my every waking moment was focused on the task ahead. Elle’s story had given me the focus I needed for the journey ahead.”
An enormous amount of preparation went into Stephen’s mammoth challenge and he quickly realised the benefit of team work with some amazingly selfless people stepping up to offer help in the form of sponsorship, logistics and at times just boosting morale: “Alone we can do so little but together we can do so much, and the whole event took on a life of its own,” explains Stephen.
Before they set off on the challenge, Stephen and his wife Alizon, who was able to join him for 50 of the 61 legs of the walk, a fantastic £9,000 had already been raised. This amount had been amassed six months prior to the challenge start date via lots of companies sponsoring a leg of the journey, four local schools (Holy Souls Blackburn, St Augustine’s Billington, St Mary and St John’s Clitheroe and St Joseph’s in Hurst Green) held their own sponsored events along with lots of other inspirational fundraisers.
Local running club Running4CF also backed the challenge. Garry Wilkinson from the club organised over 124 people to embark on a run from Appletreewick in the Yorkshire Dales with Stephen, with people walking or running 25k or 50k to support the event and this alone raised a further £5,500 towards the final total.
Land’s End to John o’Groats is an arduous journey by any means but especially on foot, and there were many ups and downs for Stephen along the way.
“Having my wife with me for 50 legs was a pleasure,” says Stephen. “The first steps were so important. It had taken so many people so many hours to get me to the start line so from that moment on I felt so indebted to folk that I had to complete the challenge and carry on no matter what happened.”
The wonderful landscapes of the UK were another high for the pair, and although both had travelled extensively for both business and pleasure, it really did open their eyes to the beautiful scenery our country has to offer. There were however low moments too.
“On day three I already had blood running down my ankles from severe blisters which was such a blow so early on in the walk,” Stephen explained. “The injuries that I picked up along the way, and still suffer from now, were always a problem, but with help and pure stubbornness we got through. I am proud to say that even in the darkest hour I never ever considered giving up. Dark moments are just times before light comes through, you just have to ride the storm.”
Walking the length of the country carrying a huge Cystic Fibrosis flag of course drew many people to Stephen, who were curious to know what he was doing. Many chatted and made donations and some said nothing but just gave money, clearly touched by what he was attempting to do: “The many people who I encountered I told about CF, I really wanted to let people know that five babies a week are born with CF and we lose two people a week to this cruel illness.
“When I met those who understood CF either through family or friends I gained so much strength and it was a real bonus to know we were not alone. The lady who I met who had lost a son and whose daughter also had CF, had an aura around her – she had such peace in such adversity, I felt blessed to have met her.”
Stephen’s challenge ultimately raised over £46,000 for the Cystic Fibrosis Trust, but he isn’t finished there and has another event planned for June 2019. ‘Ram’s Ramble’ will be a sponsored walk from the Red Pump Inn, Bashall Eaves, involving either an 8k or 20k run/walk. Stephen does have advice for others wanting to do a similar challenge: “Aside from the practicalities of walking make sure you smile! You are on a wonderful life-changing journey and hopefully doing good for what matters most to you.”