At this time on this day last year I was having a pint with family and friends, celebrating having just carried the Olympic Flame. The sun was out, everyone was there. We were waiting the evening to come, and the launch of the Leading Light campaign - an attempt to bring as many people together as possible and channel each effort into one cause: to raise £1million for Leukaemia & Lymphoma Research between the London 2012 and Rio 2016.
12 months on from the most exciting day of my life, and the biggest commitment I've ever made to anything, where are we?
The short answer is somewhere between 3-4%. It's difficult to say exactly how much - the nature of a campaign involving lots of people means that you don't share the fundraising platform. It's very difficult to track the totals of everyone who have been inspired to raise money for LLR because of this campaign. I did some maths and asked around last week and, without it being an exact science, the best guess is around £37,000. Add to this a lovely email I received a fortnight ago; a pledge of £5000 from someone touched by lymphoma. That's money that wouldn't have otherwise been there and it will do a lot of good. I am proud of it. But it's only 4%.
We are where we are thanks to the following people, who have taken this project to their hearts. Graham and Barry Blears, father and brother of our beloved Steven whose memory inspires us all. Claire Buky-Webster, who I first met at the launch and who is generous, tenacious and up for the hardest work. The London Marathon wasn't enough for Claire - she followed it by cajoling 11 of her friends to run through the night from London to Cardiff. Amazing. Andrew Jamieson, who has is now running 12 half marathons in 12 months for the campaign, and his brother Peter. Faye and Ben, who channelled their funds from the Blenheim Triathlon into a grateful pot. And every single person who has donated, shouted or tweeted their support. Thank you all.
We aren't where we need to be for a few reasons. When I started this blog I said I'd be honest about what it takes to try something like this - the bad and the good. So I will be and it's a simple answer: it's really hard.
When I found out I was carrying the torch, I struggled with it. I'm always at my happiest during the Olympics, and here was my chance to be involved. The closest I would ever get. Yet it came from the worst thing that ever happened in my life. I remember phoning Steven's Dad from my office to tell him, breaking down in tears afterwards. My friend dies, and I get to feel more alive than I ever thought I would. It didn’t sit well with me.
That’s where Leading Light came from. There was no way I could have all that just for myself. It wasn’t enough to look back on the marathons and triathlons that had gone before. I had been given a platform - some real exposure - and I felt a deep responsibility to build something good out of it. So, in a style those who know me will be used to, I went large. £1million was the target, and I would do anything to make it happen.
I knew the size of the commitment, but I’m only now coming to terms with the scale of the challenge: and what it actually takes. I’m at my best when I’m running, swimming, or cycling with the Beat Blood Cancer jersey on my back, but I can’t raise a million that way. My friends aren’t rich and they’ve given me everything they can. It has to be about getting other people on board, and trying to get them to get even more people on board (see Claire Buky-Webster), and trying to open as many doors as possible. So my role in this campaign is essentially admin (which I’m not very good at) and trying to get people to do things they don’t necessarily want to do (which I’ve not been very successful at). I’m getting better at it, but its slow going and I know I need to find a better balance.
The hardest bit is what to do when people have come on board. Understandably, if you sign up for a marathon or a bike ride, or whatever, there a lot of questions and a lot of anxieties. Often I find myself fielding questions I don’t know the answer to, and if I’m slow to respond or it’s not what they’re after, I feel like I’m letting people down. When someone signs up to give their all for your campaign, that really isn’t acceptable and I’m grateful to everyone for their patience. Again, I’m learning.
After April, when I did the London and Manchester Marathons on consecutive Sundays, I had to go to hospital. I had an infection in my toe that spread up my leg and there was a real risk of blood poisoning. It left me feeling knackered and pretty low, I couldn’t train and I had more time on my hands, and the campaign was festering in my head. I know now that I had brought the whole thing too close, and was putting far too much pressure on myself. Every aspect had to be perfect, every pound had to be predicted and tagged, all according to the grand plan (which doesn’t exist).
The London | Paris ride changed all that. I was two days late because of work pressured, and walked right into the most incredible event I’ve ever taken part it. Up to that point, everything I’d ever done for LLR had been a solo effort, or at least the onus was on me. Suddenly I was part of a team with people who have survived blood cancers, others who have lost their loved ones, people who have done more for this cause than I could ever dream of doing. It was hard, fun, together, alive, and an absolute privilege. For the first time in ages I realised that it wasn’t all my responsibility. Arm in arm with Graham as we rode up to the Arc de Triomphe, looking at 178 jerseys sporting ‘Cycling To Beat Blood Cancer’ on the road in front of us, two things hit me hard. 1) I cannot do this on my own. 2) I don’t have to.
Where do we go from here?
To Maidstone, next weekend, for a sponsored bleep test at the David Lloyd gym, organised by Ben Wright (a legendary ride captain from London | Paris). Think you can beat me? £5 a pop to try (click for details)
Up North on August Bank Holiday to run the length of Hadrian’s Wall, hopefully with a nice group of people. 95 miles, 3 days, start at the sea, finish at the sea. Comment on this blog if you’re interested.
Then hopefully everywhere in the UK in September, for a big bike ride to visit some clinical trials research centres, although that’s a bit up in the air right now.
The James Milner Foundation Christmas Ball, where I will run a treadmill marathon on the stage while footballers in black tie eat their dinner.
There are a few other irons in the fire, so watch this space.
And, the final and most important question, why?
Partly because of Steven, to build a legacy that lasts. Partly because I don’t want people to go through what he went through. Partly because I have been so touched by this charity and moved by the people associated with it that it has become a major shaping force in my life. Partly because I’m inspired every day by people who know what I’m trying to do and reveal their own story, or connection to blood cancers. Partly because I want to show them that when they’re in their darkest hours, they are not alone. Partly because I made a promise, and I don’t want to let people down. Partly because I love it.
I work for CAFOD, an aid agency. While I sit at a desk and dish out political advice, my colleagues put themselves in harm’s way every single day in some of the world’s poorest and most dangerous places. It’s a big old world and a lot of it is broken – but this is something we can fix. Have a look around this website – it will show you all the science you need to see.
This is harder than I ever thought it would be, but for that reason I’m more determined than ever to get it right. £1million might be too much, but we’ll give it a good go, and whatever we raise will help the people who need it. If you think this is something worth fighting for, then I need your help. Look deep within yourself and imagine what you’re capable of, then sign up to this campaign and do it. The deeper you dig, the higher you will climb – and one day, when blood cancer is beaten you will be able to look back with pride and say you helped to make it happen.
Enjoy your weekend.