It started out with a random idea back in January 2014 and ended yesterday over a cup of tea and at chat at the home of an Olympic gold medallist....
Over the intervening 23 months, I arranged and completed fifty-four separate challenges, all of which were undertaken in order to initially raise funds for the mental health charity Mind, and latterly to support the “Time to Change” programme the aim of which is to work towards ending mental health discrimination. I will endeavour to keep raising awareness into 2016 and beyond, but now feels like the right time to bring down the curtain on what has been a truly memorable adventure (notice how I craftily avoided using the word “journey”!).
I am not going to list each and every one of the tasks I set myself; suffice to say that in amongst the planning, the e-mails, and the hundreds of miles of driving, I have met some wonderful people, and enjoyed experiences that I will cherish for always—holding a snake and riding the rickety rollercoaster are not included in my definition of “enjoyable”.
I have done things I either didn’t think I’d get the chance to do, or didn’t believe I could or would do: viz. live stand-up comedy, (an attempt at) sparring with a pro boxer, getting a tattoo, going on stage to play a leg of darts against an international opponent (actually that ended up as opponents plural...), and so the list continues... all the way through to yesterday and a meeting with Ann Brightwell (née Packer), the lady responsible for my favourite ever moment in British sport.
The story behind Ann’s victory in the 800m at Tokyo in 1964 is fascinating... the race itself nothing short of remarkable, but to put the medal into context, British women have won just ten individual track and field golds in the whole history of the modern Olympic Games. Mary Rand, an incredibly gifted all-round athlete was the first; her long jump success coming just a few days before her room-mate’s triumph over two laps in Tokyo.
Just for the record, the full list will be given at the end of the blog, but to be not only be offered the chance to meet Ann (although we had spoken at length over the phone earlier in the year) but to be invited into her Cheshire home was something very special, and it was with a mixture of excitement and nerves that I made the trip across the M62... M60... A627... A34... etc....
In fairness, despite the weather, the journey was fine... except for a crack on my windscreen that emanated from a chip that must have happened fairly early on in proceedings. The crack grew to about six or seven inches in length but thankfully got no worse... there’ll be a call to Autoglass later today.
It was always going to be a slightly surreal moment when I knocked on the Brightwell’s front door, but after that initial meeting Ann and I sat in her kitchen and chatted away for something like an hour and a half and barely paused for breath. Ann’s husband Robbie (a medallist himself at the Tokyo games) popped in a few times... and I even had a chance to see their medals as well as wearing Ann’s 1964 Olympic 400m silver medal.
I had spoken with Elaine during the week and told her that I couldn’t think of a better way of bringing the challenges to an end than by spending time with someone for whom I have so much admiration... I hoped it would be the perfect end to an amazing couple of years and that’s exactly how it proved.
It was a pleasure and a privilege to meet Ann and Robbie, and I want to thank them, along with absolutely everyone who has helped and supported me over the months (especially my darling wife Elaine... I love you xx); I just hope that I’ve managed to make a small difference along the way....
British Women’s Olympic Track and Field Gold Medals
Mary Rand (Long Jump)
Ann Packer (800m)
Mary Peters (Pentathlon)
Tessa Sanderson (Javelin)
Sally Gunnell (400m Hurdles)
Denis Lewis (Heptathlon)
Kelly Holmes (800m & 1500m)
Christine Ohuruogu (400m)
Jessica Ennis (Heptathlon)
Richard... Jack of some trades... you can guess the rest