Saturday, 26 May 2012

Three days until the proudest moment of my life becomes a reality.

In 3 days, I will be carrying the London 2012 Olympic Flame through Chester. Seems pretty unreal doesn't it? It feels like it. At approximately, all being well, 6.08pm- the flame from the previous torch-bearer will approach me. I envisage that a sense of excitement with a subtle hint of anxiety will rush over me- followed by an absolute sense of elation, and perhaps disappointment when such a once in a lifetime opportunity comes to a finish. If you don't already know, I've been given a brilliant section to run, probably the nicest stretch- I walked it on Thursday with two fellow Chester torchbearers, Huw Barrett and Emma Jones. The flame is passed to me near Mill Street in Handbridge- near the Ship Inn. I then run over the historic Old Dee Bridge, which is about 100m long, then right down below the city walls, along The Groves, along the River Dee. I'm not sure how long I get but I should run quite far down the river. This is a really busy stretch of Chester, so I imagine it will be packed. I guess that's a good thing, the more people the better- I do empathise with some torchbearers I've watched on the Torchcam who've had very little local support which slightly lessens the awesomeness of the experience.
Scenically, it's superior. I have the River Dee and weir nearby at all times and I imagine people will crowd the city walls. If you want to come and watch- get to the Chester side of the Old Dee Bridge near Hickories Smokehouse by this time- but be early, the roads will be gridlocked and the traffic in Chester will be moving at snail pace, walk/run/cycle/fly if possible. 

This is the view I will have: 

Along with the 6 Metropolitan Police, I am joined by a Roman Guard at some point in my stretch. This will probably mean I get more press interest than the others, which is cool I guess. If you can't make it on the day, you can watch me and all the other torch-bearers live online at www.bbc.co.uk/torchrelay. I've got a huge number of people who've said they're going to come and support me, even people I hardly know- which is fantastic. Therefore I will no doubt have plenty of photo's and videos to share of the event for the blog. Watching the feed already, I have been shocked at the complexity of the relay, and also pleased at the amount of support the flame has had on it's journey through UK towns and villages. I simply cannot wait.
I am unsure how I am going to carry the flame, as daft as it sounds. I don't want to walk but don't want my moment to shine to end too quickly. I'm not going to wave because it looks daft, but I'm considering a few daft things I could to bring more attention to my section, not sure what though.

I cannot describe how much of an honour it is to carry the torch, even now, it still hasn't completely sunk in, and I don't think it will until afterwards. Receiving my pack with my time and location was amazing.
The London 2012 Olympic Torchbearers are some of the most amazing people I have ever met. Ordinary people with an extraordinary difference, ambitions to succeed, inspiring views on life and a selfless devotion to helping others. There are people from all backgrounds, for different reasons, not even sure if I fit in there- but I'm hugely honoured and grateful to be part of this. I also can't thank Samantha Rogers enough for nominating me- it's changed my life. There are far too many to mention, but I've made some fantastic friends as a torch-bearer. The Coca-Cola Future Flames group is amazing, we have such a laugh and support each other. Some friends will be friends for life- I know these will. Speaking to some of them, feels like speaking to people I've known all my life. Yet it's one humble and inspiring bunch- the people that are making a difference to the country, bringing some much needed initiative and inspiration. I think the issue with the world is a lack of initiative and because people complain about a problem before doing something positive about it. The world is not perfect, and it never will be. There is also too much negativity and falling out- life is too short to fall out with people, we need to be forgiving with each other. The majority of the torchbearers are great role models for us all in our lazy population. I'm not religious, and please don't envisage me as some long-haired hippy living in a flower-power Volkswagen van and a 'peace' necklace- these are purely observations. They're an awesome bunch. There's some great opportunities coming up- such as the John O'Groats to Land's End bike ride I'm doing with 2 other torchbearers I've met, to raise money for Epilepsy Action and Cancer Research UK. Had I not been a torchbearer, this would not have happened. There's a torch-bearer ball in October which I'm looking forward to. We're all supporting and encouraging each other through our journey, we're like one big family- it's fantastic. It's great to finally be able to communicate with people on a similar level to myself- wanting to change the world and make it a better place, overcoming their own issues along the way, they would put many people to shame.

It would appear that I may have already partially achieved this. I had a comment on my 3 Peaks Youtube video from a bloke telling me I'd encouraged him to do to the Yorkshire 3 Peaks Challenge, although he's too old for the National. A 12 year old boy wrote to me to say I'd inspired him to do the 3 Peaks Challenge for charity. Friends and strangers come to me for charity fundraising advice and advice on the 3 Peaks and I've done my best to help as much as I can. I have no expertise in this, just experience learnt from practice- there is plenty more charity fundraising to come from me. I hope to raise £1 million for charity before I die.
There are 2 youngsters competing to become the Youngest Solo 3 Peaks Challenge record holders. I will admit I am disappointed that I may lose the title of something which has changed my life beyond belief, but also pleased that I have helped to inspire and bring initiative into youth. If they fundraise for charity when they do it, even better. There is no better compliment than to be copied. Besides, I will break another record sometime soon. The initiative that came to my head to complete the 3 Peaks, of which I'm not sure where it came from, has proved how rewarding initiative and ambition can be- you literally harvest pleasure, new experiences and opportunities which stay with you for life. I hope my predecessors enjoy the same. Last night I was 'ambushed' on my way out of work by a couple who'd heard about me (and the lady wanted a hug from a torchbearer), got told several times I was a 'hero to the village' and an inspiration to her children, she was over the moon when I agreed to bring my torch round for her mum's birthday and her husband, who owns a golf club, said he'd help me out with my fundraising. Fantastic. Good to know I'm on the right track.

On the same night as the torch, I will be appearing on BBC North West Tonight. So make sure you Sky+ it if you're coming to watch! They came out to film me on the Tuesday 15th May. It was really enjoyable, albeit a little nerve-wracking. I got to wear my Mont Blanc t-shirts with my charities logo's on, sadly the shirt cost £35. I was hoping for some footage up the Old Pale in Delamere where I frequently run/bike/walk, sadly lightning and thunder put the cameraman off- so they filmed me walking in the forest below, which was disappointing. I probably looked a little daft in my Mont Blanc gear and 65 litre rucksack, walking in the Cheshire countryside. The hailstones and rain made it awful- unsurprisingly the following day we had glorious sunshine. I will get a recording of the feature for the TV and post it here after Tuesday.

Sadly, my aunty Julie died yesterday morning. She had previously beaten breast cancer but was diagnosed with a brain tumour before Christmas. It was an aggressive form and despite months of arduous treatment and suffering for her and my family, the battle was lost. I only saw her twice whilst she was ill, and it was upsetting to see the change in her condition. She fought hard but even with the full and admirable support from her family, she was beaten. This is partially why I am fundraising for Cancer Research UK. My grandad died of cancer shortly before I was born. I never got to meet him. I bet he'd be really proud of me today, and it's saddening that both him and my aunt won't be there on Tuesday. But I will carry the flame high for them both, to remember them, I know they'll be watching and they'll have the best view. My aunty was an amazing, beautiful person with a warm smile and a heart of gold, stunning in both senses of the word, she was the one who kept the family smiling and made us laugh, her and my mum were very close. I'm going to be making a speech at her funeral next Friday, as she deserves the best send off possible. As weird as it sounds, we'll be trying to make it a celebration of her life, as she wanted us all to be happy. But her loss will be difficult for us all. I've also decided that I'm going to bring a picture of both her and my grandad to the summit of Mont Blanc with me.

My grandma and mum told me that the whole torch experience for me has been a welcome distraction to them and has kept them going through the tough months. This makes me even more grateful for being a torchbearer. Seeing my family in tears yesterday was horrible. It was a shock to them, even though they'd been expecting it for months when it became terminal. It's heart-breaking, and I feel so sorry for everyone. She'll be missed badly. It's spurred me on to raise even more money for charity.

My torch relay banner for the 29th:

I've now raised over £1100 thanks to generous donations. I know that my charity night next month will make nearly £2000. My charity auction seems to be going well and I've been collecting a few things for my raffle. Still a huge amount of work to do, along with A-levels, and the 1am-2am bedtimes are set to stay for a while. I'm knackered, but determined.

Thanks to my mum and her music producer friend 'Geezer', I've been lucky to get a signed Ed Sheeran and Bruno Mars CD for the auction, which will probably be sell for £60-100 each:

Tickets will be up for sale for the charity evening from next week. It's crazily busy. I've got the Kelsall Folk Festival next weekend and bank holiday. I'm going to charge people a minimum donation of £5 for a picture with the torch at these events, with all funds going to my charities. I'm not selling the torch, although I was tempted! I'm going to Duddon and Delamere Primary Schools after carrying the torch, on Thursday and Friday. I've got to send my photo to a few websites, press and a magazine. Diane Mitchell, who I used to work for, has been very kindly growing plants for me to sell at my events, like the Folk Festival and Steam Rally, and the Kelsall Primary school fair. The proceeds will all go to my charities. Thanks Diane, I appreciate it!

Powertraveller (www.powertraveller.com) have agreed to send me some kit for my Mont Blanc climb and I'm waiting for confirmation off another. Great stuff. Thanks to Squash Falconer and Tim Emmett for the support. 
I went to Manchester last week to see my billboard, on New Bailey Street in Salford with another torchbearer, Jodie. Pretty awesome feeling!

Lastly, Here's some of the press I've been involved in, firstly a Chester Chronicle article about the torch:

On the www.handbridge.com website:

On the homepage of the Coca-Cola website:

And a 2 1/2 page spread in the Epilepsy Action magazine (I was a childhood epileptic):

Huge well done to friends Becky Bellworthy and Matthew Dieumguard-Thornton for summitting Everest this week. Can't wait to be up there myself.

I promised you I'd get a blog post done before the big event, but I didn't promise it'd be a short one ;-)

Keep believing, keep achieving. Live the Dream.

Saturday, 12 May 2012

17 days till I run with the torch in Handbridge, Chester. £1000 raised and I've got an awful lot to talk about..

If I had time to keep this blog updated I'd refrain from huge blog posts which you probably get bored of and don't read to the end- there's so much to talk about and I don't want to miss any of it, but I'll do my best to keep this as short as I can. Well, what's happened since last time, in early April? A lot!

I spent a lot of time 'attacking' the press with e-mails and a press release kindly written by Guillaume Feldman, the director of one of my charities- REACT. (I'm now officially a member of their fundraising committee too). This included the major radio stations and TV channels.
It worked- sort of. I got in touch with Chester Dee 106.3 on Twitter (@alex_staniforth) and was interviewed LIVE on a Friday morning 3 weeks ago. Really enjoyed the experience, was on for ages, had a good laugh with Gavin Matthews the presenter and really plugged Mont Blanc, and what it means to me to be a torch-bearer. He's invited me back for another interview after I carry the torch and they have some presenters there when I carry the torch too- hopefully I won't let him down next time- he'd been bigging me up all morning saying I was cycling into the studio, then I got a puncture and let him down! 
Here's the interview recording which was kindly e-mailed by Gavin- thanks Gav!:
I also appeared on Heart FM but never got a recording and missed it on the radio myself, although that was a short interview anyway. I made it into the Chester Chronicle (but about the John O'Groats to Land's End bike ride I am doing with two other torchbearers in August, TWO weeks after Mont Blanc!) and also into the Chester Standard without even writing to them, jolly good. And the Chester Leader did a good article. Heard nothing back off any other magazines/newspapers yet but will keep trying. 

On my last blog post I promised a recording of my interview with BBC Radio Merseyside in March- this one was pre-recorded and didn't focus too much on Mont Blanc, but here it is anyway:
And I told you in my last blog how awesome it was to go to the BBC to be filmed live on the BBC School Report by the familiar face that is Roger Johnson. Well I filmed it and here it is for you to watch, on a shaky camera that needs replacing before Mont Blanc as I'm going to want lots of summit photos! 
What a flattering image preview I have...

I was shocked and elated to get a call last week from BBC North West Tonight who want to film me for a feature on their show. I was gobsmacked. They're coming on Tuesday the 15th of May to talk to me about my past achievements, Mont Blanc and carrying the torch. They've asked to film me in my 'stomping gear' up the Old Pale, the hill in Delamere where I frequently walk/run/mountain bike. I love biking down there at full pelt in the dark, music blaring in my ear- beats any TV show, or sleeping. It's fortunate that I was finally able to get some new walking boots- I was wearing a tatty pair of Regatta boots for what felt like decades and they let more water in than Sandals. But sadly, mountains aren't cheap if you have to do it my way, and mountains come before clothes, unless it's gear of course. Brand new Berghaus boots too, £110. New walking trousers for UK walking, not warm enough for Mont Blanc. I should look a bit more professional now. A quick dash on the bike in the rain to the local printers to try and get my charity logos printed on a plain black t-shirt to wear while being filmed but they're saying they can't guarantee they'll be done in time- bugger! I don't know when I'll be on air, but I will let you know. Being on TV was a dream of mine, and I've already made it happen twice, this will be my third time- I will post a video here.

The BBC sadly lost the picture of me with footballer Robbie Savage and so after weeks of trying couldn't email me. I have a picture of me and the younger pupils with him thankfully, but I probably shouldn't post that here. 

Part of my war on press was Tweeting celebrities to ask for a RT (Retweet). Celebrities have lots of followers, i.e. people who can see their updates, usually hundreds of thousands, so I saw this as a great opportunity to raise awareness. Dizzee Rascal who I met in March kindly retweeted me and wished me luck! I was made up! I've not had any other major RT's with any others but regular posting and RT's has led to more followers and more awareness = more opportunities. BE OPEN! Here's the proof that Dizzee retweeted to his 360000+ followers, although sadly still no donations. Totally appreciated.

I also mentioned in my last blog that I was going to be on huge Coca Cola Olympics Torch-bearer Billboards across the UK. I was suddenly horrified to see my feminine hand-on-hip pose when I saw the preview. But still, it's another part of 2012 that still seems so unreal- I can't believe all of this is happening at once, it's extraordinary. It will bring back many happy memories. They will be up in major cities across the UK until the 10th of June. So far they have been seen in Newcastle, Cardiff, Birmingham, Waterloo Station in London and mum saw 3 in Manchester within 5 mins and subsequently nearly crashed! I will be going to see one soon too which will be good fun. I'm on the far left. Let me know if you see one!

Before I mention Mt Blanc in detail- I've been given my torch-bearer uniform, that's pretty cool. I have also found out that I'm running at approximately 6.10pm on Tuesday the 29th of May. I will be starting my stretch of history in Handbridge, near Mill St, Chester at 6.10 then I will run across the historic Old Dee Bridge, down to The Groves and alongside the River Dee up to Souter's Lane. I've got a really scenic spot and I'm getting extremely excited, I can't describe how much of an honour this is. I have 17 days to learn how to smile and run properly. If you want to come and watch, the bridge or Hickory's restaraunt on the river are probably good spots but be early as there's road closures! Made so many awesome friends as a torchbearer but I'll talk about them on another occasion. Here's my uniform, I'm an Olympic Chav :-) If you want any more info about my relay section please let me know- 07891 841376.

Talking of running properly and smiling, after being on top form of fitness in March and coming 2nd in the Tatton Park 10k in 37:30, I have had an awful month running wise. I had two good races early April but looking back, I was over-doing it, and subsequently my body has broken down. I've been unable to train properly for weeks now, running about 5-6 times in April only. Pains in my legs, all over, various diagnosis' and GP appointments not helping. Went to the physio who was and says I have overuse injuries and need some more rest before I can start training again slowly. Was getting extremely frustrated because I was losing my form and fitness but couldn't do anything about it. I had to be strict and rest, because if I'd continued training I could have risked a serious injury which could have put me out of Mont Blanc- I had contrasting advice and got really confused. I can't wait to get running fit again as it's been a while; should be back to standard again in time for the climb.

Now, fundraising, the key bit! I've now raised £1000! Only £3810 to go. I've had generous kind donations from friends and family, and many other torch-bearers. I had a cake sale on the 3rd of May and with 500 cakes ordered from Asda and a lot of hungry kids at school we made £150 in profit alone, thanks to those that supported and ate cake. This brought me up to £660 on my fundraising page, so more than 1/10th of the way there, and then I was over the moon when a huge anonymous donation brought my total to £1000! I found out this was from one of my fellow torchbearers who had been extremely inspired by my story- I can't thank her enough, but I will respect her wishes for anonymity, but she knows who she is and she's awesome :D 

I want to thank everyone so far who's helped, especially my mum for coming round to local shops for raffle prizes with me today. These will be sold on the charity night on the 29th of June, of which tickets will be up for sale shortly- it's going to be an awesome night and I went to hear our band last week- they're called Fifty Fingers, practice in Delamere, and they're awesome. So far I want to thank the Rose Farm Shop in Utkinton, Mococo jewellery shop in Tarporley, The Gunnery Restaurant in Tarvin and Greedy Pig cafe (www.facebook.com/thegreedypig, their carrot cake is amazing!) in Kelsall who have already donated, and there's some other local businesses who have agreed to who I need to collect from who will get a mention soon, plus plenty more businesses I need to go round and speak to. Thankfully mum's a sales rep so is great at persuading them! Got some bag packs planned and to be confirmed, and I'm going to have a stall at the Kelsall Folk Festival on the 2nd, 3rd and 4th of June (thanks to them!) and they will give me a mention on the stage. I also have a stall at the Kelsall Primary School fair on the 30th of June, the Duddon Primary Fair on the 7th of July, the Kelsall Steam Rally on the 23rd of June and for now that's it. Oh, and the Will Young concert on the 6th of July where I'll be doing bucket collections, thanks to the Forestry Commission! I'm going to be collaborating with my friend Andrew Bell who is fundraising for Help for Heroes over the Summer to try and help each other out. I'm taking my torch to an event in Delamere Forest on the 24th based on the Olympics and doing talks to kids at Kelsall Primary School and Tarporley Brownies in June. The money is coming in and I can't thank people enough!

If you want to donate, my fundraising page is www.virginmoneygiving.com/montblanc2012- please share around! I will try and thank everyone individually as in the past I have forgot to thank people on blogs/videos and missed them out- then felt very bad afterwards, so I want to avoid online 'thanks' if I can!

On my charity night I've now got one very valuable item! A signed Liverpool FC shirt. Will get it framed so it's worth more- there's already a lot of interest which is great. Special thanks to Karl Rosedale for organising this, can't thank him enough, as every other football club has turned me down unfortunately. Also thanks to G Miller (known as 'Geezer') who has got me a signed Ed Sheeran and Bruno Mars CD for the auction! I will get hold of them soon, once again, another contact of my mum/stepdad. Hopefully more auction stuff to come. Here I am, proudly in my Team GB shirt that I'm going to have customised- holding the LFC shirt: 

And lastly, Squash Falconer, the first woman to paraglide off Mont Blanc and an Everest summiteer (generally an inspiring and very friendly mountaineer/extreme sports/outdoors junkie who has achieved a lot in a short time!) has been really supportive with my climb. I messaged her on Facebook, where I am connected to lots of famous climbers, seeing if she'd be able to help with my kit sponsorship. She kindly posted me a spare set of Goggles, which I will need when high on the mountain to keep the UV glare off my eyes. They look great, feel great and will save me a fair bit of money- so thanks Squash! She's also put me in touch with a company sponsor, as has my legendary climbing friend Tim Emmett- and both leads look promising, but obviously I can't reveal anything until their support is final, but thanks to those guys for helping me out! See the framed poster behind me in this picture? I designed it myself. Inspires me every morning.

So yeah- those leads sound promising and there's lots of ideas yet to be put into place in terms of fundraising. Some have already been sorted. Progress is relatively fast. I'm going to be in three magazines next month, Epilepsy Action, as I was a childhood epileptic, and the British Stammering Association, which I still suffer with today badly. They think I will be a brilliant case study for them to use and I contacted them as I want my story to inspire other sufferers to live their dreams and overcome their obstacles, it's worked wonders for me and I want everyone to fulfil their own potentials- my article is about my struggles and what I have gone on to achieve, like all this stuff going on at the moment etc. I am also in a local magazine in Bunbury about being a torch-bearer.

So now my hands are hurting me and I should be revising (wish I was running in the pleasant weather!) I shall bring this novel to a close for now, and endeavour to make the next one a bit less far away. Not a bad month I say! As you can see, it's been pretty busy. This is all one huge adventure and opportunity, and I want to make the most of it, leave no mountainous rock unturned and enjoy it as much as I possibly can. But it's difficult, because so much is going on in such a short space of time. It has proven to me that being open about your life, and talking to people, opens up a world of opportunities, it almost feels unreal- it's fantastic, and brings so many benefits. Only fate decides what else is coming to me but I want to ensure I'm doing all I can. There'll be an update before I carry the torch. I promise.

Finally, I totally appreciate that I have friends that enable me to do some walking. My friend Barbara organises a walk to Snowdonia once a month, which is a great chance to get out and training, and I'm very grateful to have a brilliant friend. I've also been walking and climbing with my friend Rich and our day on the Glyders was the best walk I've ever been on- it's a shame he's moving away but I'll look forward to exploring the Brecon Beacons together and I've helped to inspired him to climb Mont Blanc for Marie Curie Cancer next Summer- which is awesome.
Here's one last photo, taken of me walking up Cadair Idris on a gorgeous day on the 6th of May, not far from the summit, above Llyn Cau. In a t-shirt it was so hot. It's known as the Supernatural Mountain because apparantely anyone who stays a night wakes up a madman or a poet. 

In the words of Bon Jovi.... woah, I'm halfway there!

Live the dream.....