By Andy Hirst
Super tough members of a Colne Valley gym have just completed a gruelling fundraising challenge on the other side of the world … but it’s taken a toll on them and they admit it’s been a ‘brutal’ experience.
The five members from Northern Fitness Gym in Linthwaite covered 315 miles on foot in under 13 days around the island of Fiji to raise money towards the fund to send seven-year-old Holmfirth girl Eden Smith to the USA for specialist cancer treatment.
That’s the equivalent of a marathon a day but they finished just ahead of schedule after getting in a monster 50km run one day. During the run they’ve suffered infected blisters and dehydration along with far too many general aches and pains to mention.
They’ve had to battle with searing heat and tough terrain on the South Pacific island famous for its volcanic mountains and dense tropical forest.
The running team members are gym owner Kev Bower, Michelle Anderson, Ryan Whitaker, Craig Lee and Brent Lee, supported by gym members Vikki Whitaker and Adam Peel who have been driving a hired van and making sure the team has the medical and logistical support it needs.
They aimed to do it in 13 days. In the end it took them 12 days and 17 hours and they finished around midnight last night (Thursday) British time.
Eden’s dad Lee Smith said: “We are proud and completely overwhelmed as a family for what the Northern Fitness Gym team has put themselves through for us. We followed them hour by hour, day by day on Facebook and what they have done is truly phenomenal. It’s unbelievable they could complete the challenge in the heat of Fiji.”
Northern Fitness Gym (https://www.northernfitnessgym.co.uk/) has a great record of doing community-minded work and Kev is also chairman of community interest company #FORRONAN set up in memory of young Huddersfield Giants Academy rugby league player Ronan Costello who was fatally injured while playing the sport in June 2016 and died at the age of just 17.
They raise money for local good causes and although the run is #FORRONAN all the fundraising is now going to help Eden at the moment.
Last December Kev challenged 100 of his gym members to raise £50,000 for the Eden appeal. Now the Fiji run is complete, the figure stands at more than £65,000.
In just 28 hours this week they covered 84km – that’s the equivalent of two marathons – and became well-known on the island after they were featured on Fiji TV.
Kev said: “Everyone was so ready for the finish line mentally and physically. From my own perspective it was a moment I genuinely doubted seeing back on day three and four.
“I have no idea how we’ve achieved what we have in the last two days let alone the last two weeks. It will have been without exception the most gruelling and brutal experience I’ve ever been part of and to have ex Royal Marine Brent Lee testify to that statement confirms it for anyone still in doubt.”
On another day the team set off at 4.50am and did 38km. After a meal and a shower Kev suggested they get back out on the road and do another 12km, which they all agreed to do so set off again at 5pm.
One of the worst days for Kev was Day 11 when he said: “My joint worst day of the tour – cruised the first 20km but the last 15 were torture. Combination of aching blistered toenail-less feet, a mind numbingly long road and the heat slowed me right down, sapping every ounce of will and energy.
“I fell asleep on the bus back to the hotel and the mood didn’t pick up until I’d demolished a 500g steak. Feet were still in bits despite ice water and massage gun therapy.”
Kev chose Fiji as he wanted an island they could run around in two weeks and he’d previously cycled around New Zealand’s north island.
He said: “We don’t know of anyone else who has gone round the outskirts of Fiji at the rate of a marathon a day.”
All seven team members self-funded the £2,500 cost per person. Halifax company Eclipse Energy provided £3,000 to give the fundraising a big boost. The company specialises in renewable energy solutions such as solar panels and air source heat pumps.
Eden, of Wooldale, is undergoing intensive treatment for a rare form of cancer and once she is in remission needs to go for specialist treatment in the USA which has a far greater chance of stopping the cancer returning than treatment available here.
Eden was diagnosed with high-risk neuroblastoma in April 2021, a rare and aggressive childhood cancer that has a 40% to 50% chance of long-term survival at diagnosis and affects fewer than 100 children in the UK every year. Scans and tests showed the cancer was located in seven places around Eden’s body.
She has completed gruelling chemotherapy, undergone a major operation and had stem cell treatment, radiotherapy and, most recently, immunotherapy.
To prevent the cancer returning Eden will now need Bivalent Vaccine treatment which is only available in New York at the Memorial Sloan Kettering Cancer Center and the earliest she’d probably be able to go would be this summer.
She will need to go there around a dozen times in the next few years and the fundraising tally now stands at around £400,000.
Anyone who wants to donate to the Northern Fitness Fiji Challenge should go to https://www.justgiving.com/crowdfunding/teamfiji2022