It all really started in late January with a routine trip to my doctor. He asked me to ‘step on the scales’ – those terrifying words – and I quickly found I had agreed to lose a minimum of 10kg, nearly 2 stones! I knew that taking regular exercise would be important and having a rowing machine at home would help me achieve this.
And then COVID-19 happened. Suddenly there was no excuse for not ‘rowing’ every day. Normal social activity came to a halt, and so my weight dropped off and fitness improved. I started adding rowing times and distance targets to my weight loss goals. The combination of these certainly helped provide a distraction from some of the strange pressures of the lockdown. It also gave me time to think about life in general, family, work and Royal Star & Garter.
As Chair of Governors of Royal Star & Garter I am not involved in the day to day activities of the Charity but I feel, emotionally, very engaged. I talk regularly to the Chief Executive, Andy, and so have a good picture of how life has changed in our Homes and the pressures on our staff. In my military service, of course, we trained to operate under threat to life, but of a very different ‘enemy’ to the one we all face today.
Care workers do not have the option of keeping away from the virus in their homes. They have to face this invisible danger every day and they carry the heavy responsibility of trying to ensure that they are not bringing it into one of our Homes. A military operational tour today normally has an end date, but no-one can give our people an end date to COVID-19. We can’t even talk about a ‘new normal’ because we don’t know what that is.
So, I decided that I needed to do something to demonstrate sympathy with the physical and mental hardship faced by all our people, our staff and residents. The 2.6 Challenge was the obvious way to do this and the response of all my sponsors has been wonderful – over £4000 raised in all.
But that was just a one-day effort and our people are facing the challenge day after day. People are saying that the COVID-19 situation is ‘a marathon, not a sprint’. But that does not represent the situation at all well. Marathons can be run in a day, or in halves, or over a week. The Care sector will be living with this pressure for many months and our care model will probably be altered forever.
So, as an acknowledgement of this, I decided that the 2.6 Challenge needed to go on, and on. I have kept up a reasonably heavy rowing rate for three weeks and finished a virtual journey of 175 miles from my home, via the Royal Star & Garter Homes at Surbiton and High Wycombe and finishing with two half marathons on 16th and 17th May which brought me ‘virtually’ to our Home in Solihull.
I will keep on rowing, perhaps not quite so hard, because it is clearly good for me. I sleep better, am more agile, more comfortable and, I think, more content. I can measure my physical fitness but I am not sure I can measure my mental health. I think I have been lucky in my life not to have suffered from stress related conditions but I do know that exercise helps me with overall well-being and I have seen that in others. So I think there is a very good chance that my rowing since January has helped me deal with the pressures of lockdown.
Although, as a result of work, I have not been able to join them all the time, my wife Johanna and son Ben have been exercising with Joe Wicks and set their own 2.6 Challenge of walking a marathon in a week. Ben has Downs Syndrome and is a GB learning disability tennis player and has found the lockdown difficult. They have found this regular and demanding commitment a real benefit – and both of them are also playing good tennis now that the courts are open.
One of my greatest pleasures is to visit the staff and residents in our Homes. I look forward so much to the time when I can do so again. That moment may not be the end of the marathon of marathons, but it will be a very welcome highlight.
Oh, and I am now at my ideal weight!