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Nijmegen Marches 2015

The emotions then became overwhelming for me in that last mile, the people cheering and clapping, waving banners, bands playing made me feel very humbled.

When I was 16 I visited my sister-in-law’s family who lived in Nijmegen and witnessed the final day of the four days Marches. It was an incredible sight as I watched thousands of people and military personnel march into Nijmegen to such an amazing reception by the Dutch people.

The dream was born… but I did not realise just how many years would pass before I actually fulfilled it.

On many occasions I explored the Walk the Walk Challenge website but always found some excuse why it wasn’t quite the right time to apply. The desire to partake never left me and in January this year I told my friend Jackie Forster that I was considering taking on a Challenge and was looking for a partner and would she be interested. To my complete amazement Jackie said YES and our personal Challenge and journey to Nijmegen was born.

The Challenge for me was to raise vital funds for breast cancer causes in support of my sister Sue and in memory of my best friend Pam Parry and my brother Bob to whom Nijmegen had been a second home.

We immediately submitted our application forms to Walk Walk and now committed there was no turning back! The training commenced and we walked many miles over the next 6 months taking in the beautiful Cheshire countryside. Sometimes we wondered what on earth we had committed to but mostly we thoroughly enjoyed our walking and chatted and laughed away many hours whilst building up our fitness levels.

As the challenge became ever nearer, we were excited and also a little nervous that we may not be able to keep up with the rest of the team. Our main concern being we were probably older than the majority of other team members and unsure about our ability to complete the mammoth walk – fortunately we had no need to worry!

The day finally arrived and we boarded the plane at Liverpool for Amsterdam. During the flight we met up with Gynette, a long time Walk the Walk competitor and awesome speed walker. On arrival we collected our luggage and caught a train to Oosterbeek, and then a taxi to the hotel where we were welcomed by the lovely ladies from Walk the Walk, Kate, Eppy, Jen and of course not forgetting Billie. These ladies were to be our lifeline during the next week, keeping up our spirits, solving any problems, always wearing beautiful smiles and giving unreserved hugs, making sure we had nothing to worry about other than putting one foot in front of the other.

In the afternoon we attended the team brief where we were all introduced and then we boarded the coach to Nijmegen to register. This was when we realised just what a massively exciting event this was. There were thousands of people in Nijmegen registering and many more who were there to enjoy the atmosphere, watch and support everyone.

After our first meal together in Nijmegen and getting to know each other we headed back to our Hotel for an early night ready to tackle the first day of our Walk.

Jackie and I had a very strict regime… bags were packed the night before each day’s walk and the clothes laid out ready. Synchronised alarms at 2 a.m., whilst one showered, one made tea and porridge. Down to the restaurant which offered ample food for breakfast (both hot and cold) and where we were able to collect fresh fruit and make sandwiches to take with us for lunch. A bit surreal at 2.30 a.m.!

Onto the bus for 3 a.m. and heading for Nijmegen (about a 40 minute drive). We had to leave early so that the 50 km and 40 km teams could share the coach journey. The 50 km team started their walk at 4 a.m. whereas the 40 km team started at 5 a.m.

On arrival the brave and wonderful members of the 50 km team headed to the start post whilst the 40 km team did some warming up exercises and visited the loo – several times! We put this down to first day nerves.

The start time approached and we headed towards the start point feeling rather excited and nervous all rolled into one. We chatted with members of the Dutch Police team who were also waiting to start and who we would meet most days.

At 5 a.m. having each been scanned through the start point WE WERE OFF!! It felt exhilarating and I remembered all the times Jackie and I had talked about actually doing the walk and now it was real, we were on our way, it was very emotional.

Each day was very different, but we walked with our team mates, we chatted with so many people and we gave encouragement when anyone felt a little disheartened. Friendships were formed and here we were a team that would support each other. We would sing with each other, lift each other, laugh with each other, cry with each other but most importantly carry each other over the finish line if need be !! Camaraderie is a wonderful thing… and we most certainly had that.

It is very difficult to describe an atmosphere, you have to be there to feel it and experience it. Every village and town we walked through bands were playing, the Dutch people were out in their hundreds, clapping, cheering, smiling, children and adults at the side of the road holding out bowls and plates of sweets and food of every description. Their admiration for the walkers and their spirit and generosity was overwhelming. This is something neither Jackie nor I will ever forget.

We visited the blister hospital at the end of day one, not that either of us had a blister or sore feet, but we were told it was worth a visit just to experience it. The doctors checked out feet for sore spots, cleaned them with antiseptic and massaged them before confirming there were no problems found.

Every evening we returned to the hotel, had a swim and massage before dinner and then to bed to prepare for another day’s walking.

Both Jackie and I received positive comments from the sports masseurs saying our legs and feet were in good shape and we knew without a doubt this had to be down to the training we had done. We were very committed to following the Walk the Walk Training Plan and I truly believe without this it would have been far more difficult for us.

Each day as we walked back into Nijmegen I felt very emotional but on day four as we made our final approach, there was a very special meeting, out from the crowd appeared my sister-in-law’s nephew & his sister, Peter and Dolly, who I had not seen since they were small children. It was unbelievable! They had waited and watched hoping to see us as we completed our Challenge. Kate took a photograph of Jackie and I with Peter & Dolly before we said our goodbyes and headed for the finish line. Now it was time to catch up with our team mates, so even though we had walked almost 100 miles it was time to RUN to make sure the team finished together.

The emotions then became overwhelming for me in that last mile, the people cheering and clapping, waving banners, bands playing made me feel very humbled. I thought about those that I loved who had given me the courage to take on this Challenge and my beautiful friend Jackie for making it all possible. Jackie and I can now wear with pride the medals we had trained so hard for and my dream has been fulfilled.

If you are considering taking on this Challenge, don’t think any longer, DO IT! It will be the most amazing experience you will ever have. Where there is a will, there is a way.

Hilary

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