Congratulations Team Sunflower

This week we hand over to Dr Becky Oatley for an update on her recent walking challenge as part of Team Sunflower…

A little over one month ago, Team Sunflower took on an Ultra Challenge walking 100km along the Jurassic Coast.

Team Sunflower comprised me, a research associate here at the Association for Dementia Studies (ADS), Jane, who has lived experience of dementia and contributes to both ADS research and teaching, and Jemma, one of the first cohort of students on our Postgraduate Certificate course.

The challenge started as a dream of Jane’s and finished as 100km of sunshine, rain, thunder, steep cliffs, daunting climbs, sharp descents, teamwork, laughter, and memories.

Day 1

Gathering in a starting pen with 300 other eager walkers and runners, the nervous excitement was buzzing around in the early morning air. The sun shone from above and whether there were really no clouds in the sky, or that is just my nostalgic memory playing tricks on me, I don’t know, nor do I really care!

Image showing the three members of the team before the start with lovely blue skies and a slight look of apprehension/nerves on their faces!
On the start line

A slow start got slower with a kissing gate less than 1km in. 300 people through a kissing gate is not an efficient process, but once through, and out the other side, we could start to get the legs going. 99km to go..

The first climb up on to the ridge above Corfe Castle was nothing short of glorious. The excitement perhaps a little too much as we pounded up the hills, passing person after person. A quick glance at my watch (I am chief pacemaker) suggested perhaps our excitement needed to be dampened or the next 98km would quickly turn to suffering!

The team members looking far too fresh and enthusiastic, out in the countryside

The first sight of the sea was met with delight and the first rest stop at Swanage came remarkably fast. For some of our competitors, the suffering seemed to have begun already. Changing socks and taping up blisters at the first stop did not feel like a good sign. But Team Sunflower were feeling good and feeling strong. Many miles of training walks were paying off. We could enjoy the reality of our challenge rather than suffer the wincing pain and regret of blisters and poorly fitting shoes.

The sun was fierce on day one, but much of the morning was inland, making our way back round towards Corfe Castle before a lunch stop under a steep ridge that was next on the route. As we tucked into sandwiches, we could spot the tiny ants of those ahead of us marching along the ridge above. Stomachs full, and water bottles filled, up the ridge we went, and again, revelled in the fact, our training had paid off.

The afternoon included marching past the tourist hotspots of Lulworth Cove and down to Durdle Door, we knew some serious climbs were to come. But climb we did, amused by those younger challengers, double taking Jane as we marched on past.

I should say at this point, that the Jurassic Coast was Jane’s idea, and only after we had signed up did she admit that she doesn’t much like heights! But our teamwork came into its own at this point. I led the way and Jane fixed her gaze firmly on my feet. Safe to say, she is now very well acquainted with my shoes!

Jane walking up a cliff side path with the rock formation of Durdle Door in the background

As the sun went down on Day 1, we saw Weymouth appear in the distance and finished up at the Lodmoor Country Park, 58km down, just 42km left to do. We had chosen the 2-day challenge, whilst others were walking through the night, so off we headed for some food, hot showers, and a sleep before continuing.

Although in many ways, this was a personal challenge, and the stuff dreams are made of, we also decided to raise money for the National Brain Appeal. They have committed to raise up to £7million to create the world’s first centre of excellence for rarer dementias. The National Brain Appeal has supported Rare Dementia Support (RDS) since the first meetings in 1994. At the heart of RDS is a community of members who provide social and emotional support through a network of specialist support groups. One member of Team Sunflower has personal experience of the joy that RDS’ community can bring, having taken part in Creativity Club during the lockdown of 2021. Huge grateful thanks to everyone who has supported so far! You can still donate here if you wish

Day 2

If day 1 was marked by sunshine, day 2 will be remembered for the thunder and black clouds chasing us along the coast. We marched out of Weymouth and continued up the coast, but the thunder caught up with us just before lunch. A thorough soaking later, some seriously muddy descents and it was almost time for Chesil Beach. Now 80km down, a loose shingle beach could be described as the stuff of nightmares! Like walking through treacle was a phrase I heard more than once. But it didn’t slow our pace and we marched on, even over taking some people who had walked through the night, feeling almost a little guilty that we had had a nice sleep and were now passing them by.

The team on Chesil Beach, still looking quite happy and enthusiastic, but in wet weather gear

A couple more steep ascents and descents and we headed down into West Bay. A quick march up the road to the finish and a final sprint over the line just as the sun began to peek through the clouds. We had done it.

100km. Just like that. Sunshine, rain, thunder, steep cliffs, daunting climbs, sharp descents, teamwork, laughter, dreams and memories.

The team at the end with their well-deserved finisher's t-shirts and medals, still with smiles on their faces

Jane has said since that she couldn’t have done it without the support organising the weekend, but I would say the same. I would never have taken the chance to take part without Jane and Jemma. For each one of us, taking on challenges, overcoming fears, difficulties and working hard to achieve our goals is part of how each one of us lives well. Together, we are quite a team.

The only problem with challenges… they are addictive. More than one of us landed home on the Monday pondering how much further could we go? What next? Well, you’ll have to wait and see…

Click here if you would like to donate to the team for an amazing cause

Connect with ADS on twitter @DementiaStudies and on Facebook @adsuow

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