UK readers will no doubt be aware that yesterday was Sport Relief, a day when sporting activity is used as a catalyst to raise funds to support charities in the UK and abroad, culminating in a telethon featuring the usual emotional roller coaster of celebrities, comedy and heart-wrenching stories. Pupils at my school took part in the Sport Relief mile and around the country people have been taking on all sorts of challenges to raise money.
One of the biggest challenges this year was taken on by popular TV personality Davina McCall, whose gruelling 7-day, 500 mile “triathlon” was screened on Thursday evening. I always find these challenges inspiring as well-known personalities push themselves to the limit in the name of charity (David Walliams swimming the English Channel, Eddie Izzard running 43 marathons in 51 days, David Walliams swimming 140 miles of the River Thames, John Bishop’s “Week from Hell”) and this was no exception.
Like much of the rest of the country, I watched in awe on Thursday as, in one hour-long programme, we followed Davina’s challenge which required her to dig deeper than she probably ever thought possible to keep going through 7 consecutive days of physical endurance. Beginning in Edinburgh on one of THOSE windy days, Davina cycled to Lake Windermere in the Lake District where, on the third day of the challenge, she took on an open water swim across the lake in water of just 5 degrees Celsius. Her core body temperature plummeted, her breathing became shallow and the element of the challenge she had been dreading most did indeed prove to be her biggest hurdle. Yet despite being pulled from the water in a near-hypothermic state after completing her swim, just two hours later after a gradual re-warming of her body and crucial medical checks, she was back on the bike to complete her day with a 60 mile cycle! I for one have no idea how she was able to do that – remember, although very fit and healthy, Davina is NOT an athlete, making her achievements all the more admirable. I’m not sure I would have had the determination to pick myself up and carry on after such a frightening experience.
Davina was supported along the way not just by her team of health professionals etc who were on hand to keep her as safe as possible, but by her parents, husband and some of her celebrity friends who were clearly both incredibly proud of her and absolutely incredulous that she was able to put her body through so much and, for the most part, keep smiling (at least in public – her tears in private were certainly justified as she pushed not just her body but her emotions to their limit and beyond). There was also a huge amount of pubic support with members of the public turning out along the route to shout encouragement.
By the time I was watching footage of the final day of the challenge when Davina (who had only begun running 5 weeks previously) had to complete a run a bit longer than a marathon to bring her back home to the centre of London, I felt like I had been through the emotional wringer with her and was ready to cry the same tears of pride, relief and pain so familiar from the end of a marathon. Reading comments online it was clear that many others had felt the same and were using words like “incredible” and “inspiring” to describe what Davina had achieved.
And I, for one, was definitely inspired which is why I chose to write about this today. Although a famous face, Davina is, at heart, a 46 year old mother of three, an ordinary person (as opposed to a trained athlete) and taking on such a punishing physical challenge is truly astonishing. By completing it, Davina proved that with grit and determination (which she demonstrated in spades) anything is possible. She was, in her own words, “doing it for the girls” and the girls were certainly leading the charge with celebrity challenges for Sport Relief 2014 as tv presenter Alex Jones scaled the 1200ft Moonlight Buttress in Utah and radio DJ Jo Whiley spent 26 hours on a treadmill in front of BBC TV centre.
All of these challenges were motivated by the desire to raise much-needed funds for charity, something many ordinary people do all the time. At their lowest points each of the celebrities I have mentioned drew not just on the support of friends, family and onlookers, but on the knowledge that their efforts would ultimately make a difference to others and change lives. With the first of the spring marathons looming, those of us who are taking part for charities close to our hearts can take strength and motivation from that same knowledge that we can make a life-changing difference to somebody else. We will all more than likely hit a low point at some stage before our 26.2 miles are complete and at that time I will remember what was achieved by Davina and others like her. Davina did it for the girls and this girl, for one, will be doing everything she can to do the girls proud.
Did you see Davina’s challenge on tv this week? Did you find it inspiring?
What do you draw on for inspiration?