In June earlier this year, I completed a 400 mile adventure, “Walk for Aoife”. The walk took me from Manchester, where I live to Dingle, Ireland, where I grew up. Oh, and it was actually more than a walk since it also included kayaking 60 miles across the formidable Irish Sea, which took me almost a day.
The whole adventure took 29 days and I raised £21K for mental health and disability charities.
I took this challenge on from my own, completely inexperienced perspective - an ordinary guy wanting to do something extraordinary. I’d never walked any distance before in my life, and I only learned to swim last year. When I got into the kayak at Holyhead (see this clip of me starting out) to cross the Irish Sea, it was only the third time I’d been in a kayak!
I pushed through blisters, torn ligaments and a stress fracture on my foot, none of which could stop me from completing the journey and in the end I finished a day ahead of schedule.
Why did I do it?
I lost my sister Aoife in 2011. She was severely disabled, suffering from cerebral palsy all her life which meant she could not walk, talk or communicate. I undertook the challenge in her name as I wanted my relationship with her to be my focus and inspiration; and the challenge i saw asthe resolution of that relationship.
A few years ago I read “A Walk to London” by William Mcgillivray, a little known book by the Scottish ornithologist and bird artist. This planted the seed of an idea for a long distance walking challenge. I also knew I wanted to fundraise for charities that would help people in Manchester and Dingle.
While I was lucky (and still am) to have an amazingly supportive wife and daughter, I came to realise that I had always felt a little dissatisfied with what I was doing with my life. I felt like something was missing. So I worked with a life coach to identify what I wanted to focus on outside my job and family life.
These Whys all came together to help me say “Yes, I can do this”! On Aoife’s birthday (November 12th 2015) I revealed to friends and family what I planned to do. Making it public ensured I was going to see it through and made me feel a huge sense of freedom because it helped me feel more responsible for the outcome, and to feel motivated to live up to my word. I used to be really bothered about what other people thought of me so I used this to tap into that fear in order to turn it into fuel! I found this way of finding motivation to be very effective.
During the challenge itself, it was remembering these Whys, together with my sheer determination and the memory of my sister Aoife, that kept me motivated.
After the challenge
The changes that have happened in my life since the challenge have been as enlightening and life changing as the challenge itself.
I learnt there is healing to be found within pain, and that pain is not something to be afraid of. We all experience pain at some point in our lives, and it’s better to experience it rather than run away from it because ultimately, we can and will handle it. This is true for both emotional and physical pain.
I have learned to let go of the past and when I’m scared, to confront fear head on and push through it by having more belief in myself and saying Yes to life.
Since I completed the walk I have been giving public talks about the challenge, to a broad spectrum of people – always with the aim to encourage them to identify their life goals, to see past fear and pain, and to believe they can do something they might never have thought possible.
The walk has led to other new challenges for me: I am now working on the second draft of my book about the challenge and hoping to have it published next year. I am about to begin training as a guide, taking people into the wilderness to find space in which to disconnect from the stresses of daily life and relax by connecting with nature. I am also writing more and making more time for regular reflection and to spend with my family.
I have developed a different attitude to overcoming obstacles – I now see them as just things to get through! I endured such physical and mental pain over the 29 days and pushed through it. Nothing can ever be as bad as that!
If you’re thinking of fundraising, I recommend setting a big target – mine was £50K.I knew that if I set myself a huge target I would probably do some crazy things to fundraise. I haven’t hit that target yet, but it certainly encouraged me to ‘aim high’.
Also, it is ok to not have all the answers immediately. The idea for the journey evolved over several months – I knew I wanted to get from Manchester to Dingle, and that I wanted to walk wherever possible, but the rest I made up along the way. There was no path or track for my walk. It wasn't the Camino, it was my personal pilgrimage - from my front door to my parents' house - and it was totally unique and had to be built from scratch. I gave it space to evolve until I was at a point with the idea where I could fully commit – and say YES!
If you want to read more…..
My blog details the challenge: www.walkforaoife.com
If you would care to donate: https://www.justgiving.com/teams/Walk-for-Aoife