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Why we're stepping this September

We spoke with Kirsty, Mike and Siân about their STEP this September experiences and what the challenge means to them.

Why do you want to get involved in STEP this September?

I’ve always enjoyed walking. I can thank my parents for that. I still remember going for long walks as a small child with my dad around our hometown, so many good memories. I’m normally walking around a city centre but I’m staying with my parents in the countryside at the moment. It’s a change in routine for me, but I’m still getting my steps in. I equally love the buzz of the city and the natural beauty around the countryside. I think there’s benefits of walking in all kinds of places, you just have to look for it.

I used to be a keen jogger when I was younger but since I twisted my knee a few years ago, I immersed myself in the world of walking. I find it so inclusive and a great way to stay fit. Every year, I make a walking leader board for the Charity’s Facebook Walking Group and I’m looking forward to doing that again. It’s nothing serious, it’s just a bit of fun.

There are so many benefits to walking for The Charity for Civil Servants and that’s why I’ve taken part since 2013. It’s good to get your heart rate up and embrace the different seasons around you. I love how it actually keeps me warmer in winter, especially on the coldest days. You’re doing something good for the environment, your health and for people in need. Given the stress we’ve all faced since the start of the pandemic I think it’s important to find what you enjoy in life. For me, a big part of that is walking.

I walk all the time anyway, it’s just something I do. I think this is my sixth year of taking part. The Charity for Civil Servants have provided an opportunity to raise money through walking challenges for years and I look forward to it every single time. It’s even better when I can do it with colleagues, even if it is virtually. The thought of helping other civil servants through the money I raise is what drives me.

For me personally, it’s played a big part of my recovery. I had a heart attack in 2015 and have had a few health problems since then. On my birthday in 2018, I needed another heart procedure which was quite traumatic. I actually crashed on the operating table and they had to resuscitate me. It wasn’t a romantic setting, but I proposed to my wife that day. Moments like that, make you want to make every day count. Since then, walking has become a gentle, manageable way for me to stay healthy. So, by combining that with helping other people in need, it’s perfect.

Taking part in STEP this September also brings me a sense of calm. It provides space for thinking things through… although I can’t remember these deep trains of thought when I get home!

I’ve walked for The Charity for Civil Servants for years, participating as part of a team in the office where I used to work. It was a great team builder where we constantly encouraged each other, particularly on down days. We lifted each other’s spirits on the weekends, lunch breaks and of course, our annual pub crawl to maximise steps.

I’ve had a few health problems over the year but I’ve never let it stop me doing what I can to raise money for people in need.

When I was walking for the Charity in 2017, I became unwell with Sepsis which meant I couldn’t reach my daily goal of 10,000 steps. I was so disappointed but I recovered and after four months off work, I participated fully the following year, enjoying the camaraderie with my team.

In 2019, I had an emergency appendectomy just prior to a challenge, meaning once again, I couldn’t participate in the way I wanted to. But in 2020, I was encouraged and inspired by the walkers I met through The Charity for Civil Servants’ Facebook group. We kept each other going, and noted our steps into one spreadsheet, they were a great bunch of people.

On New Year’s Eve 2020, I felt sluggish, lazy and drained. So I decided to challenge myself to walking a minimum of 10,000 steps every day for a year – a potential 3,650,000 steps. So on 1 January 2021, I wrapped up against the elements and with words of encouragement from my son, I stepped out into the cold. I warmed up later by setting up a spreadsheet to plot my daily steps, linking it to a monthly and year to date round up. Plotting the steps really motivates me and I’ve exceeded my monthly goal each month, so far with ease.

Once I get out, I generally walk further than I intend to as it makes me feel so much better. I started plotting the distance I travel on a map of Europe to give me perspective of how far I have travelled. At the end of each month, I research the location I’ve reached and find out some interesting facts to share about my journey – it’s pushing me to see how far I can get before New Year’s Day 2022!

What does raising money for The Charity for Civil Servants mean to you?

You never know what can happen in life, we all go through tough times. You just can’t take life for granted. That’s why it matters so much to have a Charity like this, to help when things go wrong.

It’s great to know that the money I raise during STEP this September is going to help people who need it most. If you need help, reach out to them. The sooner the better.

I have asked the Charity for help twice in the last 37 years of being a civil servant. It all stemmed from getting into a financial mess when my marriage ended, leaving me feeling lost and isolated. The Charity gave me financial help and advice which saved me from getting into more debt and greater problems later down the line.

As soon as I was in a better place, I immediately set up a regular donation from my salary, actively encouraging others to do the same. I’m emotionally attached to fundraising for the Charity as it gave me back the confidence and self-esteem I lost 21 years ago.

Do you have any tips for STEP this September beginners?

Take it easy to start with. I was never top of the leader board but I still had fun and that’s what counts. Perhaps competing against yourself is the best idea. Keep a record of what you did the day before and you might be surprised at your own progress.

Listening to music whilst walking is another great tip but I’m actually trying to get used to the quiet at the moment. It helps me be mindful. Different things work for different people.

It’s based on my ability versus my time management and everyone is different. These days, I try to do the walks really early in the morning, before 8am then I’m ready to start work. If you’re new to this, I suggest starting with morning walks before you do anything else. I also highly recommend getting into podcasts whilst you get your steps in. I sometimes time my walks to the lengths of the podcasts, which has been a great incentive.

The important thing is, to walk at a time and pace that suits you. Don’t put yourself under too much pressure to achieve a fixed amount of steps by a certain time. It’s all about feeling good about yourself and helping other people. See what you can do and perhaps try and do a little bit more each day. You might be surprised at how much further you can walk in a short space of time.

What would you say to people to encourage them to give it a go?

Give it a go, why not? If you don’t hit your step target, does that really matter? If you raise money for the Charity and help people in need, then you’ve done a good thing. And if you get fitter in the meantime, it’s an added bonus.

I know it’s a cliché, but just take it one day at a time. Don’t look at the end goal, just break it up into chunks – it’s less daunting.  I break up my steps into two or three walks. It doesn’t matter if you don’t hit your targets, the important thing is to enjoy yourself and give it a go.

I work from home now and although I can’t meet up with a team, I still want to take part. I use my old commute time as an opportunity to do an early morning walk. I plug in a podcast or an audiobook and before I know it, I’m wide awake with a clear head. Consequently, I’m more motivated by the time I sit at my laptop. At lunchtime, I get out for at least half an hour and at the end of the working day, I walk again. The steps accumulate really quickly and combined with all the steps I do around the house; I reach 10,000 steps relatively easily without much thought.

I also recommend taking one new photo every time you go for a walk – something that blows your mind. Yesterday, I saw a hard patch of ground next to a busy city roundabout that was planted with meadow flowers. It was utterly beautiful and made me stop to catch my breath. A few weeks ago, I saw two swans on the edge of an old boating lake near my house guarding eight scruffy, fluffy cygnets. I love finding hidden wonders in the town where I’ve lived for 21 years, small details I’ve never noticed before.

Sometimes you just need to see things in a different light to notice how beautiful they are, and walking has helped me do that. It’s helped me be mindful of the world around me. If I’m helping others at the same time, then what have I got to lose?

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