They were meant to be partying in the White Isle of Ibiza with cocktails in hand to celebrate their 30th birthdays, but the Coronavirus pandemic led four big hearted girlfriends to swap strappy sandals for sturdy walking boots and walk 24 hours non-stop through the honey coloured stone villages of the Cotswolds for Sue Ryder Leckhampton Court Hospice.
‘Clubbing together’ for charity
Tara Amos, Amber Norman, Sally Stephens and Sophie Bridges, all aged 30, decided to ‘club together’ to do something positive after their Ibiza holiday was cancelled due to the pandemic. And after Tara spotted a ‘crazy’ 24 hour walking challenge posted by a personal trainer on Instagram, the childhood friends made a pact to stride out on their own 24 hour walk, which they completed on Thursday 9th September to raise money for Sue Ryder – a cause close to their hearts.
Sophie’s gran, Jill, and the four girlfriends’ close friend Tash James’ mum, Jen, were both cared for by Sue Ryder Leckhampton Court Hospice, so the girls wanted to give back to the charity who were there for them, their friends and their loved ones when it mattered.
Tara explains, “Ibiza was cancelled due to Covid-19, so we thought we better do something beneficial with our time off work. Rather than rolling around the West End, attempting to drink cocktails with Z-listers, we decided to keep fit, lose some extra pounds from iso-eating and stimulate our minds.
“We decided on a 24 hour walk for charity, and even though we pretty much all instantly regretted our decision afterwards, we saw it as a chance to physically and mentally challenge ourselves.”
Amber adds, “Once our challenge was set in stone, choosing our charity was the next decision. Out of all the wonderful charities, and the interests of the four of us, it was hard to decide which would be the best. We wanted something local - a charity close to our hearts, and a charity that we know would benefit from our given funds.
“Sue Ryder Leckhampton Court Hospice was the most popular choice, due to us having loved ones who had used their services in the past. Sophie’s Nan; Jill and our forever friend; Tash’s Mum, Jen. So, we all agreed.”
“Before Tash told us about her Mum, we all had no idea what 'palliative' care was, let alone where our nearest hospice was”
Tara shared, “Jen was a true legend and the lady that let all four of us stay over, screaming until 3am, leaving marmite and spilt cups of tea all over her kitchen floor. She always knew how to throw a party. Even through Jen’s illness, she was able to take the mick out of herself (and us!), still make Tash’s fancy dress outfits and decorate the house to suit our needs. Her cooking skills were second to none and she would never be shy on her opinions of our outfits!
“Our memories of Jen are very fond, and we had some of the best times in our youth, at her house with Tash.
“When Jen was diagnosed, she needed some extra independence and was looked after by Leckhampton Court Hospice, who did a tremendous job, hence our desire to raise money for them. Before Tash told us about her Mum, we all had no idea what ‘palliative’ care meant, let alone where our nearest hospice was.
“She started at the day hospice and visited once a week, trying new things, meeting new people and eating lots of free biscuits! Those days gave Jen a chance to reclaim some of the independence she had lost and made her world a little brighter.
“Sadly, as time went on, Jen’s health deteriorated and she needed to go into the hospice full time. Tash told us how incredible the staff were, supporting the family through an incredibly difficult time. At every step, they made sure Jen was treated with the kindness and respect that she deserved.”
“Sue Ryder staff showed my Nan the kindness and compassion she deserved”
Leckhampton Court Hospice more recently supported Sophie’s family when her gran, Jill, received a sudden and unexpected terminal diagnosis in January 2021. Sophie’s Nan was looked after at home by Sue Ryder’s Hospice at Home team.
Sophie said, “In the weeks before we lost Nan, our family received much-needed support from Sue Ryder staff who showed us, and most importantly my Nan, the kindness and compassion she deserved. They made sure my Nan was as comfortable as she could be. They took care of all the little things. My Nan always took care of her appearance – she always did her hair and make-up - and the Sue Ryder team always helped her with that.
“I know how much Nan appreciated their care and always felt reassured when they were around. As a family we are forever indebted to the team at Sue Ryder Leckhampton Court Hospice. I take my hats off to the Sue Ryder Nurses and care teams. I could not do what they do.”
Support from friends and family
Before the walk friends and family rallied around the girls giving support and offering advice ahead of their challenge.
Amber said, “My dad is an avid walker. In his time he has done Everest and Mount Kilimanjaro, so he gave me all the advice! He even got me round the night before to feed me all the carbs with a big pasta dish. Everyone is proud of what we’ve done.”
Sally joked, “I think our friends and family think that as we’ve all hit 30 we can’t quite do a weekend binge in Ibiza anyway. Sophie and I are Mums too now, so would probably bring the rep of the rest of the group down in Ibiza with our Mum moves!”
Sophie added, “My husband was convinced we wouldn’t do it and our families all think we are mad, but we are a determined bunch.”
Swapping their clubbing gear and bikinis for Sue Ryder tops, warm jogging bottoms and ‘geeky’ head torches, the girls followed a rural route starting in Longford, Gloucester taking them towards Evesham, then Broadway and onto Moreton-in-Marsh in the Cotswolds, where they had a holiday house with a hot tub lined up to help ease the aching muscles and feet.
“It was a lot harder than we expected”
After completing their epic challenge, the girls shared how tough they found walking non-stop for 24 hours.
Amber said, “The challenge was a lot harder than we expected. I think we all completely underestimated it! Mentally, we actually didn’t struggle as we had each other but there were a lot of aches and pains and blisters.”
“The hardest part was the rain as soon as we set off. It was terrible! Sophie and Sally really struggled with the night too as they found it very tedious. Not being able to see means you can’t enjoy the surroundings and it’s boring just walking in the dark! I had a dodgy knee from about hour three. By the end, that was pretty painful, while Tara got struck with blisters from early on after getting wet feet.”
Despite the hardship, there were highlights.
“For me the highlight of the whole 24 hours was the ‘pit stop’ we made in a farmers field to watch the sun rise. We were all probably a bit delirious at that point, but we were all crying with laughter at some complete nonsense. People donating along the way really helped spur us on, along with all the uplifting messages from people telling us we could do it. It was such great motivation for us!
“When we hit the 24 hour mark we all felt pure joy! We were so pleased we could finally stop walking and we felt so proud that we had all done it, and done it all together. We did a little countdown and just celebrated!”
Sally added, “There’s no one else I would rather have spent 24 hours, moaning, smelling and crying with!”
“We’ve done something to give back to a charity which means a lot to us all”
The girls have been firm friends since secondary school and say that although raising money for end of life care will never be as ‘sexy’ as living it up in Ibiza, the support of Sue Ryder has meant the world to them and they were determined to complete the challenge and raise vital funds for the charity.
Amber said, “Of course we were all looking forward to the sunshine and the partying in Ibiza as we all love a drink and like to have a good time as we’re all so young at heart. We’ve never been on a girlie holiday all together either as there has always been one of us missing. It would have been great to celebrate turning 30 together in Ibiza, but instead we’ve done something to give back to a charity which means lot to us all.”
Support the 24 hour walk
Donate to Tara, Amber, Sally and Sophie’s 24 hour charity walk through the Cotswolds for Sue Ryder and help us be there when it matters.