Thanks for taking the time to visit my JustGiving page.
Many of you kindly sponsored me for taking part in the Nijmegen Marches over the summer. I am very grateful for your contributions, as are Headway Shropshire; the charity I chose to support in my venture.
Headway provide support, outreach services and day opportunity centres for adults with acquired brain injury; whether this be through stroke, accident or assault. I have personal experience of the great work they do, through their work with my father after his major stroke in 2007. My father has gained a lot socially and psychologically from the expertise and care of the Headway support workers.
Below is an update for those of you who are interested:
Saturday 14th July: I assemble with other members of the British Dutch Walking Fellowship (BDWF) in Swindon to board the coaches that will take us overnight via the Eurotunnel to Nijmegen, Holland. Luckily there is one coach for student walkers and one for adults, so the adults are able to get some much-needed sleep en route on their slightly less rowdy coach!
Sunday 15th: We arrive at the De Dennen sportshall in Nijmegen; our home for the next week. 200+ beds are lined up in the equivalent of a school gym. There's a very strict regime too; lights out at 8.30pm to ensure we're all getting the rest we need in order to prepare for our 2.30am wake up calls! Sunday and Monday are spent relaxing and preparing mentally and physically for the walk, with some taking it very seriously by getting their feet taped to prevent blisters. My other friends arrive on Sunday - they took the sensible option and arrived by plane - so on Sunday evening we have a night out and enjoy the atmosphere. During the week the population of Nijmegen swells by around one million people - walkers and spectators - and businesses in the town report that they make more money during this one week than they do throughout the rest of the year. It's a very sociable event, with people striving to help each other, and spectators cheering the walkers on - even at 4am when students, returning home after nights out, line the streets to watch the walkers set off.
Unfortunately on Monday evening I was taken ill and admitted to hospital; rather ironic that this happened before I'd even started the walk. I was so disappointed when the doctors advised me not to start the walk on the first day - Tuesday - as they didn't think I was well enough to walk the 40km I'd signed up to do. I also felt sorry for my friends, who had to set off in the early hours without knowing what was happening to me.
Tuesday 17th: I feel much better and go to meet my friends at the end of their days' walking in the main town square, which is turned into a beer-festival set-up for the week, with beer tents and live music to greet walkers at the end of each day. We decide that the following day I will walk with George - an 82 year old ex-Olympic speed walker, and just do 30k in order to ensure I'm fully recovered.
Wednesday 18th: The 30k walkers benefit from a lie-in until 6am, and don't start walking until 8am ..... luxury in the eyes of the other walkers, who have already been walking for 4 hours by then! George takes me under his wing and we set off, with George giving me some great guidance and coaching on my walking technique! Already the crowds of spectators have been lining the streets to shout encouragement at the earlier walkers, and they bring out refreshments for us as we walk by, with little children holding out plates of cheese and watermelon that we take handfuls of as we go by. Families bring out their sofas and armchairs to watch the spectacle, bands play music, there are yoga and massage tents on the roadside for those walkers who need some respite, and care homes bring their elderly residents out to line the streets - in wheelchairs and even hospital beds - to experience the carnival atmosphere. As we walk through towns and villages we stop off for coffee, or to visit places such as the Mook War Cemetery; the event is not a race, it's all about the taking part and enjoying the experience.
Thursday 19th: It's decided that I'll walk 30k again with George. I haven't told anyone, but I'm secretly hoping that on the last day - Friday - I'll be able to walk the 50k route with my friend Ed, as it's his birthday that day. Thursday brings what's referred to as the "Nijmegen Everest"; a series of seven hills; a rarity in Holland!
Friday 20th: A 2.30am wake-up call for breakfast. Ed is very surprised to see me, but I'm determined to complete the 50k. At the start he breezes off and I almost have to run to keep up with him. According to his friends, Jim and Ronnie, he is testing me in a kind of initiation rite that new walkers have to go through! Resolute though, I manage to keep pace, and we get many miles under our belt before we reach the first rest point. It feels strange to be eating spag bol at 10am on a military base, but it's essential fuel to keep us going. We reach the town of Beers - and are tempted to have a beer in Beers, as many of the other walkers do, but decide to be sensible and stick to coffee. We'll celebrate with a few beers later!
As we approach the finish line on the Via Gladiola spectators hand out bunches of orange gladioli - the Dutch national colour - and there's a real sense of excitement. We walk past the benches of local dignitaries and cross the finish line exhilarated and proud of our achievement.
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