Rob Walker on his Absent Friends Tour


He will run and cycle the 1000 mile plus distance between John O’Groats to Land’s End from June 5 to 23

Losing a good friend or close relative can have a profound effect on anyone and I’m no different.

Losing three of my mates and one of my nine-year-old son’s best friends in the space of two years has left me with a heightened appreciation of life, love and the determination to focus on the beauty of the simplest pleasures of life. Like a run down a country lane with nothing but the sound of birds and bees on your ear.

Running, athletics and snooker have defined my life for more than 40 years and after losing Robin, Martyn, Stephen and little George, and speaking at all their funerals, I decided to set myself a challenge and raise a few quid for two brilliant charities.

That’s why on June 5 I will set off from John O’Groats to Lands End, covering more than 1,000 miles by cycling and running the length of this beautiful country in what I hope will be a thoroughly uplifting 19 days finishing in Cornwall on June 23.

Along the way I intend to spread some joy and encourage people to toast my friends whilst remembering  theirs, by giving out four bottles of champagne a day in memory of each of the four I’m doing it for.

I’m buying the bottles with my own money which people may think is a bit mad. But I’ve started doing random acts of kindness over the last year or so and those no strings attached gestures really seem to resonate with people.

In part I think it must be my way of channelling the grief into something positive.

I am also a firm believer that if life has smiled on you, there is a moral obligation to act with humility and generosity.

Rob Walker with kids at a school in Uganda (Rob Walker)

Ever since watching the inaugural World Athletics Championships in Helsinki in 1983 I knew I wanted to either run the 1500m for Great Britain at the Olympics, or “be the man in the stadium talking about it.”

Thanks to a series of strokes of luck, some hard work and a lot of passion, four decades later I find myself as the lead international commentator at every World Championships and Olympic Games.

Even though I’ve covered every Commonwealth Games since Manchester in 2002, every Olympics since Athens in 2004 and every World Championships since Helsinki in 2005, I still have to pinch myself sometimes. When I’m on the microphone in those stadiums I feel an electricity of excitement which is hard to describe.

Commentating regularly to an international audience has led to some amazing friendships, connections and trips abroad, especially around East Africa. It’s a part of the continent I love and the time I’ve spent in Ethiopia, Kenya and Uganda has been incredible.

For the latter I’m now an official sports tourism ambassador and as such everyone who donates to the Just Giving Absent Friends Tour will be entered into a prize draw to win an all expenses paid trip to Uganda to trek with mountain gorillas. An amazing experience I can tell you first hand after a recent trip there in February this year.

Rob Walker running in Uganda (Rob Walker)

It’s a trip my four friends would have loved. As is this Absent Friends Tour.

Robin had a heart attack at home 18 months before what would have been a brilliant 50th birthday. Martyn (45) and George (nine)  both died suddenly in their sleep with no warning and Stephen (53) fought a brain tumour for more than a decade with the heart of a lion.

Raising £25k for the Jessie May Children’s hospice at home and the Brain Tumour charity won’t bring any of them back. Neither will giving away a free holiday to Uganda or handing out 76 bottles of champagne to strangers.

But it will put some smiles on faces – including mine. And as Morgan Freeman so memorably puts it at the end of Shawshank Redemption. “Get busy living or get busy dying. That’s goddamn right.”

» Donate to Rob Walker’s Just Giving Page here

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