David Stranaghan from Ballymena has been busy clocking up the miles over recent weeks in preparation for taking on the famous Camino de Santiago this month which is National Walking Month. David is taking on the challenge to raise vital funds for local health charity, Northern Ireland Chest Heart & Stroke (NICHS).
The Camino de Santiago (the Way of St. James) is an extensive network of ancient pilgrim routes stretching across Europe and coming together at the tomb of St. James (Santiago in Spanish) in Santiago de Compostela in northwest Spain. David will be completing the most popular route, the Camino Francés, which stretches nearly 500 miles from St. Jean-Pied-du-Port near Biarritz in France to Santiago de Compostela.
David explains; “I decided to take on this challenge after becoming a Northern Ireland Chest Heart & Stroke volunteer when I retired last year. I volunteer at the Ballymena Post Rehab Exercise Programme (PREP) group. PREP is a physiotherapy led, community-based course which helps rebuild people’s lives after stroke through exercise and education. It is designed for stroke survivors, who have completed the statutory rehabilitation offered by the health service, to meet their longer-term care needs.”
“I started volunteering because I wanted to give something back to the community and do something different from my old job- I worked at the same company for 43 years. I found out about volunteering for NICHS through the Volunteer Now website and after speaking to the charity the opportunity at Ballymena PREP came up and I've been doing that every Wednesday since January.”
David continues “I get a lot out of volunteering for NICHS. My wife still works and otherwise I could be in the house on my own a good bit. I enjoy the company of volunteering at PREP and you meet some really interesting people. It’s also brilliant to see people on their recovery journey after a stroke, from when they first come to the group to when they leave, and how things have changed for them both physically and mentally.”
So how did the idea of walking nearly 500 miles to raise funds for the charity arise? David says; “I’ve thought about doing the Camino de Santiago for a long time. The business I worked for had a supplier in Santiago de Compostela and I used to see the pilgrims coming into the big square near the cathedral. I always thought it would be a great thing to do but it wasn’t until the COVID-19 pandemic hit that I started to get into walking seriously. Like a lot of people, I had more time on my hands and there wasn’t much to do but walk! That’s when I really got into longer distance walking.”
“My father was also great walker- he never drove so he walked everywhere. He was walking 5 miles a day right up into his eighties, so I think I've probably picked up my love of walking from him. Before he passed away I had already decided to do the Camino and I’m planning to take some of his ashes with me to scatter there. He would have loved to have done something like this in his younger years.”
“After starting my volunteering with NICHS and getting so much out of it I decided I would go ahead and fulfil the dream of completing the Camino and raise some much-needed funds for the charity along the way.”
David has been doing plenty of preparation for the challenge. He says; “I’ve been doing lots of training, walking every day and a few weeks ago I completed the walk along Hadrian’s Wall in northern England. It was about 90 miles and I did it over 5 days. It was quite tough with steep climbs and inclines and tough terrain. That was good training for the Camino because for the first couple of days walking it goes up over the Pyrenees mountain range. On that trip I was regularly walking for 6-7 hours a day and completing around18 miles.”
“I also completed the South Downs Way in September. This is one of Britain’s National Trails and it runs from Winchester in Hampshire to Eastbourne in Sussex through the South Downs. I walked 120 miles over 8 days on that trip, so it was another valuable training exercise for the Camino.”
“The Camino is around 500 miles and I have allowed myself 6 weeks to complete it although I’m hoping I can do it a bit quicker than that. It will be a long journey but knowing I am helping raise money for NICHS so they can continue to help people affected by chest, heart and stroke conditions in local communities will help spur me on when the going gets tough.”
Regina Cox, Community Fundraising Manager at the charity adds; “We are very thankful to David for taking on this amazing challenge in support of us. The effort and dedication shown by David is nothing short of phenomenal and we wish him all the best as he prepares to take on the Camino de Santiago.”
“Today, there are over 335,000 people living with a chest, heart or stroke condition in Northern Ireland. Almost 90% of our care and prevention services and research are funded exclusively by public donations. Fundraising efforts like David’s are vital in enabling us to continue to support the local community and provide life-changing services for people living with chest, heart and stroke conditions and their families.”
Regina continues; “It is not just financial support that we rely on however. At NICHS we depend on the support of our team of committed and compassionate volunteers, like David, to allow us to deliver our charitable activities. We involve volunteers in our care services, public health activities, research committees, on our Governance Board, at our fundraising events and as community ambassadors. In short, we involve volunteers in everything we do, and we could not achieve what we do without them.”
If you would like to find out more about David’s challenge, or to donate, visit www.justgiving.com/page/david-stranaghan-1683723215731
If you have been inspired by David’s story you can find out more about the many different ways to support NICHS at www.nichs.org.uk/how-you-can-help Visit www.nichs.org.uk/how-you-can-help/volunteering to view the charity’s current volunteer opportunities.