Ian Botham’s famous charity walks cancelled after spine and hip ops but now he is urging people to go virtual

Sir Ian Botham Picture: David Betteridge,Sir Ian Botham Picture: David Betteridge,
Sir Ian Botham Picture: David Betteridge, | www.dhbphotography.co.uk
While many charities are turning to virtual events because of Covid-19, Sir Ian Botham’s charity foundation already had virtual walks planned, says Catherine Scott.

When Sir Ian Botham needed spine and hip surgery, it meant his famous fundraising walks would have to come to an end.

This left his Beefy’s Charity Foundation, and the seven charities it supports, with something of a problem.

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His daughter Sarah, who runs the foundation on behalf of its trustees, said: “Dad is integral to all the fundraising we do – people expect to see him at events such as the annual walks but it became apparent after his operations that things had to change.”

Sarsh Bothan, left with dad Sir Ian and mum Lady Kathy Picture: David Betteridge,Sarsh Bothan, left with dad Sir Ian and mum Lady Kathy Picture: David Betteridge,
Sarsh Bothan, left with dad Sir Ian and mum Lady Kathy Picture: David Betteridge,

The England cricket legend started walking for charity in 1985 for Leukaemia Research.

“Dad didn’t even tell the CEO of the charity. He just wanted to do something for them.”

Since then he has completed 18 walks on four continents 
and raised more than £20m for his chosen charities, which all have a personal affiliation for Sir Ian, his wife Kathy and their family.

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“Dad first started by helping Leukaemia Research in the 80s. He had an injury and was in hospital. The kids in the children’s ward heard he was there and persuaded staff to get him to visit them. He spent half an hour playing cards with four little lads and as he left said, ‘I’m back in two weeks for a consultation, I’ll see you then.’ As he walked out the doctor said, ‘They won’t be here, they don’t have long left.’ They had leukaemia.

Sir Ian Botham with wife Kathy and daughters Saran and Becky Picture:  David Betteridge,Sir Ian Botham with wife Kathy and daughters Saran and Becky Picture:  David Betteridge,
Sir Ian Botham with wife Kathy and daughters Saran and Becky Picture: David Betteridge, | www.dhbphotography.co.uk

“Mum and dad started funding parties for the children in the hospitals before dad came up with the idea to do a walk.”

The first was a 973-mile trek from John O’Groats to Lands End, for Leukaemia Research (now Blood Cancer UK).

The 18 walks that followed took him across the globe, covering more than 5,000 miles in total and involving many other sporting and media stars.

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In that time the survival rate for the most common form of childhood leukaemia has rocketed from 20 per cent to over 90 per cent today.

SIr Ian on one of his charity Beefy walks with celebrities including boxer Barry McGuigan Picture: David Betteridge,SIr Ian on one of his charity Beefy walks with celebrities including boxer Barry McGuigan Picture: David Betteridge,
SIr Ian on one of his charity Beefy walks with celebrities including boxer Barry McGuigan Picture: David Betteridge,

Other charities have been added over the years including the Yorkshire Brain Tumour Charity, Batten Disease Family Association, Cardiac Risk in the Young, YUVA Unstoppable, Switchback and Juvenile Diabetes Research Foundation – Sir Ian’s other daughter, Becky, suffers from Type 1 diabetes.

“All the charities we support are important to either mum or dad,” says Sarah.

Ironically it is these walks that have taken their toll on Sir Ian and led to him needing surgery 18 months ago.

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“He’d had a back operation years ago,” explains Sarah. “And then it became clear that he needed further surgery but I don’t think any of us realised how much pain he was really in until an old friend he hadn’t spoken to for a while called me to say he was really worried after talking to dad as he sounded terrible.

“Then after the operation mum called me to say that dad sounded back to his old self, seeing him every day we just hadn’t realised the difference.”

The spine operation was followed by two hip replacements and it became clear that the foundation was going to have to find an alternative to the fundraising walks. They came up with the idea of holding a ‘virtual’ walk, long before coronavirus hit with charities having to come up with more imaginative ways of raising funds.

“We had to have a massive rethink to come up with a different way of raising money. We had just been about to launch the Virtual Walk Challenge when coronavirus struck,” explains Sarah. “So we took the decision to delay it until this week.”

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From tomorrow (May 1) to August 31 the Virtual Walk Challenge asks people to sign up to cover the miles from any one of Sir Ian’s previous walks, complete those miles in their own time and at their own pace in any location, raising sponsorship for every mile they complete.

“I was only six when they started and he has done them every couple of years since then, raising so much money for so many good causes since then. It has been really interesting to back over all the walks.

Other ‘virtual’ events are 
also planned, including a charity auction, celebrity cookalong 
and online Q&A sessions hosted by Sir Ian who will invite different sporting friends to join him.

“The impact of the lockdown upon charity fundraising has been widely reported,” says Sir Ian.“With most events cancelled, we have had to rethink our fundraising.

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“Luckily our Virtual Walk Challenge had been in the planning for a few months so we hope you enjoy reading about the walks we have completed over the years, it certainly took us down memory lane.”

The 64-year-old is currently in lockdown at home with Kathy and keeps in touch with members of his family via telephone.

Sarah, who lives near Darlington, is married with a one-year-old son Arthur, who is currently unable to see his grandfather.

“Dad phones about four times a day mainly to speak to Arthur who just seems to know it is him. As soon as Arthur hears the phone ring he has a big smile on his face.”

She says Sir Ian is very close to all his grandchildren.

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“He was obviously away a lot when we were growing up near Doncaster, but we never knew anything else.

“Mum was around a lot and we had a great childhood.” Sarah also has a brother Liam

Sarah says that since his operations her dad is like a new man. “He’s great – he’s like the Bionic Man.”

She says his long-distance walking days are behind him, 
but he will continue to campaign for the charities close to his heart.

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