Aesop would be proud. Volunteers from Bruce Boats proved slow and steady shows the way when they pipped Help for Heroes’ runner Tristan Cooper in a fun, fundraising ‘Tortoise and Hare’ challenge along the Kennet & Avon Canal towpath.
Around a dozen walkers from the Great Bedwyn-based, canal-boat charity set off six days ahead of 48-year-old Cooper, from Pitton, near Salisbury, to walk 75 miles of the towpath, taking it in turns to cover the legs of the journey.
However, it wasn’t much fun for Cooper, who injured his groin shortly after beginning his pursuit. But despite fears, he would not be able to continue, urged on by his colleagues, and his own determination, the Help for Heroes Sport, Activity & Fellowship Regional Lead continued through the pain to complete the challenge and raise much-needed funds for his charity.
He explained: “After the first few miles following the injury, I felt I wasn’t going to be able to complete the run, but I iced it each evening and kept taking painkillers.
“I’m not even sure when it happened. After a few miles, we hit a rut and I felt a little bit of pain; by the time I got to 10 miles, I was having to ice it at the refreshment stops.
“It wasn’t great overnight on the first night, so I thought I’d get to the start point for day two and see how it felt. It was pretty sore for the first few miles – and, every so often, it would feel really bad – but, somehow, I just got through it, thankfully.
“It made it all the more special at the end, because, thinking back to the first hour of the challenge, I’d thought I had no chance of making it. But it did take my mind off the heat; I was concentrating on the injury and not worrying about the temperature.”
A gathering of supporters, volunteers, friends and family from both charities awaited walkers and runners at the finish line at Great Bedwyn, and there was even a special performance from the Help for Heroes choir.
And, true to the fable, it was the ‘tortoise’ that crossed the line first.
“I was quite emotional at the finish. In the end, I was tying my shoelace as they hobbled past me to cross the line first … after all, the tortoise always has to beat the hare: Aesop wrote it that way,” smiled Cooper.
“The choir pitched up on Sunday and sang for us to help make the end of the challenge quite a party atmosphere. We had quite a few volunteers and supporters turn up for the finish, plus our veteran ambassador Spencer Bull and his wife, and a veteran who lives nearby on a canal boat.
“With Gift Aid, we should raise around £1,500, so it was brilliant. And I think the Bruce Boats’ team raised a four-figure sum for their charity, too, so it was a very worthwhile event. Plus, it has parallels with what we’re trying to do in the community.
“Quite often, when we’re asking veterans to come along and participate in an event, it’s hard for them to get out of their comfort zone. Doing something like this enables me to show that I, too, am forcing myself out of my comfort zone to overcome a challenge. I’m not comfortable; it’s tough and I’m not sure I can achieve it. So, when I’m asking them to do something at least I’ve shown I can walk the walk.”
Always one for a challenge, Cooper was once part of a Help for Heroes team that undertook an unusual triathlon, which involved swimming the Solent, one of the busiest stretches of water in the UK – from Gosport, at 6am, to Ryde – having cycled through the night to the coast from Tidworth, Wiltshire, before running the circumference of the Isle of Wight.
However, the regular marathon runner has already ruled out repeating either challenge next year.
“No chance,” he laughed. “I always seem to end up doing something each year, though, but nothing is planned.”
Help for Heroes champions the Armed Forces community and helps them live well after service. The charity helps them, and their families, to recover and get on with their lives. It has already supported more than 26,500 people and won’t stop until every veteran gets the support they deserve.