A very early morning alarm call on an August bank holiday saw four die-hard Sunderland AFC fans leave Durham City and head off to St James Park.
They hadn’t lost their minds. Or perhaps they had. Because they, along with 100 other hardy souls, joined Jeff Stelling’s March for Men – walking 26.2 miles – in support of Prostate Cancer UK and in memory of a good friend who, last year, sadly and silently passed from this cruel killer disease.
On arrival, the brilliant staff from the Charity offered directions to the “Man Kur” Suite. This got us scratching our chins until we realised that we were headed to the lounge named after former Sunderland skipper Bobby Moncur who apparently also played for Newcastle United. Never mind, but the red and white bacon sandwiches and coffee went down a treat as we surveyed the black and white room.
The early morning atmosphere in the room was positively excellent, expectant and jovial as we recognised a few familiar faces. Jeff Stelling and Chris Kamara got things going and we headed off through Newcastle City Centre which, judging by the empty cans, broken glass and discarded kebabs, was suffering from a severe bank holiday hangover.
The Swing Bridge negotiated and we relaxed - Marching with Jeff and Men and Women – the route zig-zagging through the streets of Bensham and Saltwell. Conversations were struck with others on the walk, life stories and inspirations drawn from those who had their own very personal reasons for spending their time raising funds for such a worthy and oft-neglected cause.
We approached the Angel of the North from Harlow Green and we met a truly inspirational man. Explaining how six years ago he was given two years to live, Kevin told us his story - how he had survived by running and walking and achieving things that were only possible by the strength of his spirit and his mind. He completed two marathons in one week in the middle of a course of chemotherapy – he had run 600 and odd days consecutively – including that very morning – this before walking a marathon with three more to come that week. He told us of the visits to others who were suffering in silence and alone, never mentioning his own struggles.
I am not sure that Kevin believed that he had a struggle, he seemed to draw strength from his condition. His achievements were normal for him, a natural thing – to us we were in awe of his bravery and his strength of character. The twinges in middle-aged hips and knees suddenly seemed trivial and irrelevant.
We learned some life lessons in those few minutes with Kevin.
A Monday morning walk through the beauty spots of Birtley, Vigo and Chester-le-Street and on to the second sports stadium of the day – Chester-le-Street Riverside – and lunch. A Mexican chicken salad served up to what was, in the main, a bunch of middle-aged blokes. Very tasty and enjoyable but “know your audience” came to mind. Those in charge of sustenance might wish to consider this.
A climb to Fencehouses clearly just to ensure that Jeff and Kammy only walked the real North East streets as we passed through Shiney Row, Herrington Burn and on to Herrington Park. A break for refreshments in the shadow of Penshaw Monument and only the last leg of the marathon to complete.
Jeff’s strict three miles per hour pace was maintained despite an increasing demand for the services of the medics treating blisters, sore hips, knees and ageing limbs. More conversations about the charity and awareness, the most important part of the day.
Awareness is that big word – the word that Prostrate Cancer UK was pushing all day long. As important as the fundraising was, making men of an age and of a generation realise that they need to be aware of the symptoms, to be aware that they need to get checked out, to be aware that if they do they will have a better chance of living a longer and a better life. That was the key take from the day.
We enjoyed the company of a lady from the Prostate Cancer UK, learning of their work as we marched through Thorney Close – under constant surveillance of kids on BMXs – and through to Barnes Park.
Distance was clearly an issue as we snaked our way through the City Centre, taking a route down Blandford Street a necessity to achieve those last important yards.
We arrived at the Murray Gates to cheers from family and friends as Jeff Stelling led the band of walkers through an inflatable finish line. Jeff and a few others had completed the first of the four marathons they will tackle this week – £170,000 raised on the day – goodness knows how much has been raised from his leadership and inspiration over a number of years, how many lives saved from those lapel badges adorned by the team each week on Soccer Saturday.
This was such an uplifting day spent with inspirational people who did it for each of their own reasons. For us, it was in memory of a legend of the Sunderland Message Board and Littletown Cricket Club – The Voice of Reason.
RIP Ted and especially good luck to Kevin and all of those others who are continuing their brave battles.
If you’d like to sponsor Jeff’s March for Men 2021, you can do by clicking here.