In 2003, Gary’s father died suddenly of a heart attack five years after he was diagnosed with lung cancer. Gary describes his father as an active member of the community that loved life. His heart attack came as a shock days after a lively holiday in Dublin.
When his dad was diagnosed with cancer, Gary says his world turned upside down. It affected everyone and his death left a huge gap in his family’s life. Although Gary’s dad wasn’t directly supported by Macmillan, Gary says ‘I remember how the family felt when dad was diagnosed. We were devastated. I just thought to myself, there must be other people who feel like I did and they need support.’
‘When he died, I wanted to do something for my dad to remember him and how he was, as a way of celebrating his life. I also wanted to help other people who are in need of support, that’s when I started fundraising for Macmillan.'
Gary’s Macmillan fundraising efforts began in 2004 when he did the Brazil cycle challenge. Gary admits he wasn’t a cycling fan and knew it would be extremely difficult for him. He raised £7000, not only through sponsorship, but mainly through getting his friends fill tubes of Smarties bought from the cash and carry with 20p coins. Gary distributed over 200 tubes to his friends.
Gary says ‘what people don’t know is that a Smartie box can be filled with £14 worth of 20p coins. People didn’t realise they were giving money as it was loose change and then sponsored me again on top.’
Having caught the fundraising bug, his next challenge was to climb Kilimanjaro in 2006. He says ‘I will never forget how amazing it felt at the top. I knew I was helping so many people – it felt really good. And the team organising the event were brilliant.’
Gary later took part in the Edinburgh Marathon and then proceeded to recruit a team of about 120 people to take part in the Cumbrian Run, giving Macmillan almost 12% market share in the event.
To celebrate Macmillan's centenary year, in March 2011 Gary ran from Land's End to John O’Groats raising in excess of £23,000 for Macmillan, an exceptionally large sum of money from West Cumbria.
Gary had originally decided that he would walk Land's End to John O’Groats using long distance paths over a two month period. He had previously done two long distance walking challenges.
That changed because of time constraints at work so, after a lot of thought he decided he would run it. Gary actually finished his challenge a day early and ran the equivalent of 33 marathons in 27 days. He says this was the biggest mental and physical challenge he has ever done and couldn't believe he got through it.’
Having been away from his much loved family for almost a month, on finishing the challenge, Gary’s first comment was ‘The sad news is that in the 27 days I was running Land's End to John O’Groats almost 6000 people in the UK will have been diagnosed with cancer’.
Over the last ten years Gary has organised different fundraising events, galvanising his friends and family and local businesses to support Macmillan. He has held dinners for 200 people with local sports celebrities. He persuaded 100 people to do the Cumbria half marathon run with him one year and even talked his rugby team into making Macmillan their charity of the year, raising over £100,000 for us.
In 2012 he carried the Olympic torch for us, having been nominated by 30 people in his community for his fundraising efforts for Macmillan. He says it was a massive honour to hold the torch and talk to thousands of people about how passionate he is about supporting Macmillan.