In 2016, Sky Sports and darts presenter Dave Clark became our Champion of Walking and took to the hills to do the Coast to Coast challenge. Here, he tells us his story.
When I was young, I used to go on holiday to Robin Hood's Bay on the coast of North Yorkshire with my dad, who had Parkinson’s. I remember people used to stand in the sea opening bottles of champagne. When I asked why, it turned out it was because they had done something called the 'Coast to Coast' walk. Although it looked enjoyable, it seemed odd that people were celebrating a walk – what was the fuss about?
It turns out the fuss is about a 200-mile walk stretching across the Lake District, the Yorkshire Dales and the North Yorkshire Moors, from one side of the country to the other. In 2016 I decided to take on this challenge to show just what determination and positive thinking can achieve (and hopefully raise a bit of money along the way). I also have Parkinson's, and have done for over 5 years. I've just turned 50. I walk with a limp, my right arm doesn't swing, and I have some wear and tear from my rugby days and arthritis in my toe. Some might say not the best condition to walk over 204 miles, but I wasn't going to let that put me off.
After a lot of preparing (and buying sensible gear, including some boots, a rucksack and some walking poles), my friends (Sky Sports colleague Martin Turner, who also has Parkinson's, and sports journalist Gabriele Marcotti) joined me in St Bees on the Cumbrian coast. The idea is to take a pebble from the Irish Sea and carry it with you to the other side, so I popped one in my pocket. I remember thinking the view was beautiful – really breathtaking. We started walking along the coastline drinking it all in. We probably didn’t realise in that first hour or so the scale of what we were embarking on. This wasn’t a gentle walk over flat ground. Ahead of us we had steep moors, three national parks and one of the tallest mountains in the UK to traverse. (And somehow we got away with just 2 and a half days of rain. Not bad going!)
One of the best parts of the walk was the people I met along the way. At one point we saw a man on a quad bike heading towards us. It turned out a farmer had heard about our walk on the radio and had come over with his sheepdog to offer his encouragement and a donation.
I could've been beaten with a baseball bat and I’d have still carried on. I was determined to finish.
Then a few days later we met a masseuse who gave our aching legs a much needed bit of pampering, and who donated generously to the cause. I was also joined by lots of friendly faces including darts players, other colleagues and even my secondary school economics teacher – which was a bit of a surprise!
Of course, it wasn’t all plain sailing. It was hard, physical work. On the more challenging days, we’d be doing 11 hours. A man whizzed towards us on his mountain bike at one point, and told us it had taken him three hours to travel the distance we could see on the horizon. We checked our watches – it was 5pm. It was going to be a long night. But at times like this we realised the best thing to do was to look back on how far you'd come – not how far you had to go. But to be honest, I could've been beaten with a baseball bat and I’d have still carried on. I was determined to finish.
AN END IN SIGHT
Reaching Robin Hood's Bay was an emotional moment for me. It was indescribable really. Doing this walk seemed daunting and scary but an amazing way to encourage other people to get fit, and I managed to raise more than £150k with the help of others, including Sky, Martin and Gabriele.
I still had my pebble, and the idea is to throw it in the sea to mark your journey. But I couldn't bear to part with mine, so I just dipped it in and kept it. I keep it on my desk now.
The great thing I have found about walking is that any amount can make you feel good – it gets the blood pumping, the heart racing and, more importantly, you can do as much or as little as you want. I received so many amazing tweets and emails from people saying they had been inspired by my challenge. Half a million steps is definitely not for everyone, but whatever your fitness you can get involved. I doubt I'll tackle anything as big as this again, but it does get addictive. Maybe just some local walks for me for the time being though.
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Inspired by Dave's story? Join a walk near you and unite with thousands of others raising money for Parkinson's UK across the country.