Sports writer, Nancy Frostick, looks back at the sport relief challenges of the past and chooses her top five.
Sport Relief is fast approaching with the main weekend of events taking place on 18th-20th March. People of all ages are being encouraged to walk, swim, cycle or take part in another sporting challenge to raise money for the charity that helps others all over the world. After Jo Brand finished her 150-mile ‘Walk from Hell’ last week, it raises the question of which celebrity Sport Relief Challenge has been the most intense. Missing out but definitely worth a mention is: John Bishop and his 290-mile triathlon from Paris to London, the Kilimanjaro Climb, the Kenyan Trek and Prince Harry’s South Pole Trek.
5 – David Walliams’ ‘Big Splash’ Challenge
At number five is Walliams’ 140-mile swim up the Thames, which took him eight days. Despite already completing a number of gruelling swimming challenges across the English Channel in 2006 and the Strait of Gibraltar in 2008, Walliams decided to take it a step further in 2011. He raised over £1m over the course of the challenge, which took him from Gloucestershire all the way to the Houses of Parliament. Along the way he suffered “Thames tummy”, rescued a dog and had to swim through a tidal stretch of the river that was busy with traffic. The distance was made more challenging by low visibility and 500,000 cubic metres of raw sewage that entered the London section of the Thames a week before he started. Burning around 4,400 calories a day, the first true champion of the Sport Relief celebrity challenge is certainly worth place in the top 5.
4 – Davina McCall’s ‘Beyond Breaking Point’ Challenge
A seven day, 500-mile challenge faced Davina McCall in 2014 as she raised £760,000 for Sport Relief. Horrendous weather conditions throughout her weeklong challenge pushed her to the limit as she ran, swam and cycled from Edinburgh to London. A number of celebrity friends joined McCall along her route to lift her spirits when she felt she could not go on. She won over the public when she forced herself to swim across lake Windermere, eventually having to be pulled from the water. She needed over 8,000 calories day and various physio sessions to keep her on her feet in a challenge that really pushed her to breaking point. McCall’s sacrifices definitely place her challenge amongst the most demanding that have been attempted by celebrities for Sport Relief.
3 – Helen Skelton’s ‘Polar Challenge’
In 2012, Helen Skelton took her Sport Relief challenge to new extremes by trekking 500 miles to the South Pole. Using skis, kite skis and a specially adapted bike, Skelton set various new world records, including fastest 100km by kite ski in seven hours 28 minutes and the first person to use a bike as part of an expedition to the Pole. She suffered with dehydration, blisters, a serious cough, and stomach issues and risked serious sunburn and frostbite in temperatures of -48C. In total, the expedition took 18 days, but involved 30 nights camping on ice and only one wash and one change of underwear. A small team from the BBC and a Norwegian explorer assisted Skelton on her challenge, during which she raised around £150,000.
2 – Eddie Izzard: Marathon Man
Izzard took a seemingly impossible challenge in 2009, completing 43 marathons in 52 days. He ran 1,100 miles around Britain, visiting London, Cardiff, Belfast and Edinburgh after only five weeks training. His personal best marathon time was just over five hours, and on some days he ran even further to allow for rest days once a week during the challenge. Izzard was forced to take in between five and six thousand calories a day to fuel the intense amount of exercise he was undertaking, and struggled to sleep at night, which caused further fatigue. He raised £200,000 for Sport Relief, running in all sorts of weather conditions and pushing his body to the limit as blisters caused him considerable pain. The sheer length of the challenge puts him right up amongst the most demanding on my list.
1 – Helen Skelton’s ‘Amazon Adventure’
Despite some serious competition from the other celebrity challenges, Helen Skelton features again and tops the list for kayaking 2,010 miles along the Amazon. In this challenge, she broke two world records – for the longest solo journey by kayak and the longest distance in a kayak in 24 hours by a woman. Having never been in a kayak before she started training and taking a total of six weeks to complete the journey, the sheer scale of the challenge takes her straight to the top of the list. Paddling for up to 14 hours a day, Skelton started her challenge in Peru and finished in Brazil. She suffered with seasickness, dehydration and heat exhaustion, but none of this overcame her determination to reach the finish line and raise money for Sport Relief.