HOW IT ALL BEGAN
It was New Years day and every year on this day, I would wonder what the year would hold, but this year, 1989, was different. This year I knew what destiny had in store because the nagging within me, which had been my constant companion for many years, had driven me to accepting the inevitable. The time had come for me to fulfil the driving force of my will and to accept the realisation that life in all its complexities is a magical experience and the human body is capable of overcoming the toughest endurance imaginable. In a few months time, I would begin my dream to run four thousand miles around the coast of the United Kingdom to raise money for cancer research.
The seed of my dream had been sown many years earlier in 1981. I was on holiday visiting my aunt and uncle, Joyce and Gordon Kilford in Winnipeg, Canada and we stopped for a coffee at a small cafe. As I sat sipping the warm drink, I just happened to notice a poster on the wall showing a picture of a young man running with a prosthetic leg and the words, ' Marathon of Hope'. I asked my uncle about the poster and he told me that Terry Fox had lost a leg to cancer and had run a marathon a day across Canada to raise money for cancer research. However, after three thousand miles, the cancer Terry thought he had beaten returned and the run had to end. His journey created such an impact on Canadians that over 23 million dollars had been collected. During the rest of my holiday Terry's life ebbed away and he died on June 28th 1981, the day I left Canada.
Terry Fox, I Had a Dream,
VIDEO Part 1
Terry Fox, I Had a Dream,
VIDEO Part 2
Terry Fox, I Had a Dream,
VIDEO Part 3
Terry Fox, I Had a Dream,
VIDEO Part 4
On my return to England, I got back into the normality of life and time passed by, but the seed had begun to grow and I started to think of ways to raise funds for cancer research. Having been a sporty person in my early years when I played football for Queens Park Rangers Ladies, I thought it wouldn't be a problem using running as my vehicle to raise money. However, I had not done any form of exercise for a number of years and my first run lasted a few hundred yards. I was unable to run any further because I was completely out of breath and my legs felt like they had heavy blocks of lead attached to them. I struggled home despondent, but not beaten. Although running wasn't as easy as I first thought, I was determined to get fit. I set myself goals and after a few months ran in several five mile charity events. I then built up to running a half marathon and eventually a marathon.
It was around that time that the idea of running around the United Kingdom entered my head. But then the voice of logic told me I was crazy. Running a marathon was one thing but I was in my mid 30's, an age when most people retire from sport. There was no way the body would cope with the physical pressure placed upon it and organising such an event would be impossible to do. So I carried on with my life ignoring the idea and putting it to the back of my mind, but the idea was like a stuck record. No matter what I did in life it would keep coming back. I changed jobs, travelled the world to remote places like Lhasa in Tibet, Ladakh in India and Kathmandu in Nepal, but no sooner had I got home, the idea came back again. It was as if the idea wouldn't leave until the task had been accomplished. But I still kept telling myself that it couldn't be done, that people like Terry Fox were special people and that they had been given some divine help to achieve the impossible. I on the other hand was no one special and not particularly gifted, so why would I be able achieve my dreams and wishes. And so the battle between logic and imaginings went on. Very soon something had to give.
It was during a long run that something magical happened. A feeling of euphoria and undeniable knowledge enveloped me and I came to realise that I was no different from anyone else, that if one person can achieve their dream so can another. I realised that the only thing that has stopped me before was a lack of belief and a negative attitude. Instead of looking at what can be achieved, I had always looked at the possibilities of what could go wrong. So at that moment, I untied the constraints of my thoughts and saw no limitations. I told myself that I would run around the United Kingdom come what may and raise as much as I could for cancer research.
In 1987 I had run the London Marathon in a time of 3 hours 43 minutes and afterwards kept up a weekly training regime of 35 miles a week throughout the year, but now at the start of 1988, I needed to get a whole lot fitter. I figured it would take about 15 months to get myself ready so I increased the mileage each month until I reached 140 miles a week.
When I eventually told my family and friends about what I intended to do, their reaction was the same as my initial thoughts, that to raise money for cancer research was the right thing to do, but to run 4,000 miles and to organise the event would be impossible.
'Why don't you just run the odd marathon,' my mother Joan said worryingly.
'Because when I ran the London Marathon I raised a few hundred pounds. Just think how much I will raise if I run 4,000 miles.'
'It is a dumb and insane idea,' my father Robert said in a raised and concerned voice. 'You will get two hundred miles down the road and probably get injured, or run off the road by some truck.'
'Thanks for the vote of confidence,' I said defensively.
Finishing the London Marathon in 1987.
My mum and dad, Robert & Joan Pritchard.
Of course I understood their reaction. I had already gone through the self-doubt and concerns that the idea was an unattainable dream. But now things were different. Now I believed that you are never given an idea without also being given the power to make it come true.
After the initial shock of finding out their crazy daughter was going to run around the coast of the United Kingdom with or without their blessing, my parents got behind me and helped all they could. However, raising the funds needed to pay for the trip was not easy. Together we wrote hundreds of letters to companies asking for sponsorship, but only a few bothered to reply and those that did made the excuse that they had already used up their quota for charity events.
My run, which I named 'Keep Hope Alive', would begin on April 12th 1989 from the in Greenwich, London. But three weeks before the run began; I had hardly any sponsorship, no back-up vehicle to protect me from the traffic and just a few volunteer drivers who would drive for a week each. I still needed someone for all the other weeks I would be on the road. From an outsider's point of view, there didn't seem any way the run would begin. But I just knew everything would be ok, but even I was surprised by the turn of events.
With just days to go, Martin Stallard, a manager of a used car company offered me the use of a small van for the entirety of the run. A day later I had a phone call from actor who I have admired for some time for his portrayal of Granada Television's Sherlock Holmes. I had written to him when he was appearing in the play, The Secret of Sherlock Holmes at Wyndham's Theatre in and told him what I intended to do and would he be willing to sponsor me. Unbeknown to me at that time, Jeremy's wife had died of cancer and so he was only too pleased to help. Jeremy invited me to visit him backstage at Wyndham's Theatre and instantly we got on really well. I spoke about my run and he spoke about the tragic loss of his wife to cancer.
'I did not give up hope until the moment she died. Jeremy said. 'There are success stories and there are miracles, and one always thinks you're the one who is going to get away with it, even right up to the very last minute. There are cases, of course, where people do. But I think what is extraordinary is that the human spirit is so strong that one doesn't really give up hope, right up to the end.'
As I listened, I felt close to this man. My determination to help in some small way to rid the world of cancer was intensified. I vowed then that nothing would stop me completing my quest.
That evening Jeremy held a collection at the theatre, which paid for ten pairs of running shoes. This was followed by a photo shoot with the press to initiate interest in the run and get a back-up driver. A couple of days later I got a call from Jane Arnell from the Imperial Cancer Research Fund saying that Ted Rayner, a 63 year old retiree had phoned her office and offered to be my back-up driver at any time he was needed. Jane went on to tell me that in 1987 Ted had been diagnosed with cancer of the Larynx and a year later had a Laryngectomy operation, which is the removal of the voice box. He then learnt esophageal speech.
Although I didn't have enough sponsorship, I figured the £1,500 I had saved would be enough for a couple of months of the journey and then with a bit of luck, as the run gained momentum, a sponsor would be found. So for now I had everything I needed to begin a journey of a lifetime.