I am a slow walker, but I never walk backwards – Abraham Lincoln

“Walking is a man’s best medicine,” said Hippocrates, the Greek physician regarded to be the father of western medicine. Despite his quote being over 2000 years old, there’s a growing body of scientific evidence that he wasn’t wrong; his wisdom a timeless non-pharmacological prescription for wellbeing.

Nowhere was this wellbeing – this sense of meaning and of purpose, more visible than at the third annual Walk for Hope, our flagship fundraising event which this year took place in the New Forest on Sunday 9 June. Our 300 walkers (and their 30 dogs!) chose either a five, 10 or 20 mile route, strolling through the ancient woodland, open moors and heathland and alongside free-roaming ponies, cattle and deer. Its peace and beauty was a poignant setting.  Now, they’re well on their way to raising £50,000, ensuring that anyone living with cancer will never have to walk alone.

But Walk for Hope was so much more than a walk or a charity fundraiser. Our walkers epitomised strength and togetherness as they united to give hope to anyone undergoing cancer treatment, remember loved ones and support those living with cancer.  One walker described it as, “a milestone in my recovery.”

Dan Bateman walked the 10 mile route with his wife Ashleen, who has recently been diagnosed with cancer. Dan works for Barratt Homes who chose us as its charity of the year after losing an employee to the disease. Barratts is aiming to raise £50,000 for us through a variety of fundraising challenges and events during 2019.

“The past few months have obviously been really tough for us,” says Dan, “so taking part in Walk for Hope was something really positive to focus on.  When Ash was diagnosed with cancer we were told about the support Wessex Cancer Trust would be able to give us, and it feels really good to be able to give something back.”

Dan and Ash were joined by their three-month-old pug puppy, Benji, whose little legs meant he enjoyed the majority of the walk from the comforts of his carrier.

Dan says:

“Everyone who took part was really friendly and because we’ve all been touched by cancer in some way, there was a real sense of community and support. It wasn’t a race because we really felt like we were all on the same team. Lots of us had written dedications to the people we were walking for on our backs, so it was easy to strike up conversations and share our experiences. When we stopped for a breather at the five-mile point we got chatting to a couple who were on holiday and they gave us £5. The whole day had that vibe to it, with people visiting the New Forest for the day stopping to chat to those of us taking part and everyone supporting each other.  

It was a really nice touch that Wessex Cancer Trust set up a dedicated Facebook page for the event, because it meant that we could all go on and support each other, share stories and give each other tips. It was through Facebook that we’ve managed to raise £1,300 and we’ve smashed our target thanks to the amazing support from our friends and family.”

Dan says he recognises that taking part in a charity event can be daunting, but advises anyone thinking about it to try not to be put off and ‘just go for it’. “Walk for Hope was great because it was challenging, but there was a choice of distances so as many people as possible could get involved,” he comments. “You can view it as either a gentle stroll or be more competitive with yourself by setting yourself a target time.  Ten miles tested us more than we had thought and the legs were a bit sore the next day, but we enjoyed it and felt a real sense of accomplishment when we crossed the finish line. We were spurred on by everyone around us and knowing we were doing it for a brilliant cause – and of course the promise of a burger at the end! I would definitely do it again.”    

Dan has been joined by his fellow walkers saying how much they enjoyed Walk for Hope.

One commented:          

“It was a great and very poignant day because it was one year ago today that I was diagnosed with breast cancer. Thank you to the organisers, volunteers and walkers for making it a fantastic event and raising a lot of money in the process.”

Another said, “it was a fantastic place, beautiful people and perfect team. Thank you to everyone for making it this possible. It’s been an amazing day.”  

And there was a ripple effect to the wider community too, with Walk for Hope helping to raise awareness about cancer. One of our walkers, Philip Dinn, who was himself diagnosed with cancer in 2017 and has raised thousands for Wessex Cancer Trust through his role as president of the New Forest Rotary Club and singing in our Sing for Life choir, said he spoke to a cyclist who stopped to ask what the event was, and as a result has been inspired to go to the bowel screening he had been putting off.

After a very early start, every participant was cheered over the finish line where they were presented with their medal and some well-earned refreshments.    

“I am a slow walker, but I never walk backwards”, said Abraham Lincoln.  It didn’t matter whether our walkers approached Walk for Hope as a gentle stroll or set themselves a target time to finish their chosen distance. By coming together and through their fundraising, support and raising awareness, each and everyone made great strides to ensure that no-one with cancer will ever have to walk alone. And they remind us that there is always hope.  

Details of next year’s event will be on our website soon.