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How many hills?

This year, our Chief Executive Heléna Herklots took on a personal challenge to help raise vital funds to make life better for carers. With hill 50 of the 50 hill challenge complete, Heléna looks back on the journey she has been on.

Hill 50When people have seen me over the last few months they haven't asked 'how are you?', instead the greeting has been 'how many hills?'. Well, finally and with some relief I can say 50.

"It can be an uphill struggle..."

I started my challenge to climb 50 hills in Carers UK's 50th Anniversary year on 1 January 2015. I wanted to do a fundraising challenge and raise awareness for the charity and cause I care deeply about. I also thought hill climbing epitomised some of the experiences of caring – it can be an uphill struggle, you have to do it no matter what the external elements throw at you, and it's better if you have someone with you to share the ups and downs. So after 50 hills, what has the experience taught me?

My map reading skills have improved (slightly). I've learnt the importance of having the right footwear (but only after losing two toenails...). The midges in Scotland are as bad as advertised. And you have some of the best conversations when you're walking.

"I learnt more about people's experiences of caring"

Along the way I've been joined by a total of about two hundred people – Carers UK members, volunteers, trustees, supporters, staff colleagues and family and friends. One memorable day I joined three generations of our founder Mary Webster's family as we completed four hills in one day together.

I met new people on some of the walks, getting to know each other as we walked together. I've also learnt more about people's experiences of caring. The carer who described how her living room became a public place with the comings and goings of health and care staff caring for her father. The carer who talked about the day when she realised that even her best friend didn't understand the intensity of her caring responsibilities. And the many carers who talked about the ongoing struggles of getting the right support for the person they are caring for. There were also a lot of conversations that started with I didnt realise I was a carer...   

"I've climbed a cumulative height of about 40,000 feet"

There were a few themes that came through lots of the walks – the isolation you can feel as a carer, and the way in which we can be harsh on ourselves about caring as we keep asking ourselves 'Are we doing enough?', 'Are we doing it right?', 'How can we make things better for the person we love?'. It reminded me that one of the important things that Carers UK does is it gives carers the opportunity to share some of these concerns with each other, and importantly to hear from other carers who can tell us that we are doing just fine. And running through all of this is the importance of shared experience, and finding humour in situations and the power of laughter to help you feel better.

So as I hang up my walking boots, I have some very special memories of the people who joined me on the hill challenge. Ive climbed a cumulative height of about 40,000 feet (Everest is a mere 29,029 feet!). I feel lucky to have had the opportunity to walk such a range of hills from the heights of Snowdon, to the cobbled street of Gold Hill, from Ben Lomond in Scotland to Polruan Hill in Cornwall. It was a joy to complete hill 50 in Greenwich with some of my colleagues from Carers UK, including our Chairman, David Grayson. I'm thankful for all the support and encouragement I've received, and it's an experience I'll never forget.

  • To support Heléna's 50 hill challenge and help us make sure no one has to care alone, click here.

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