"If my efforts prompt just one man to go for a test, it will be worth a few blisters"
Many of those joining Jeff on his Men United March have been inspired by a loved one's experience of prostate cancer. For Heather Ashton, it's a former PE teacher and promising amateur footballer that will be motivating her on day six of the challenge.
We often look to our sporting heroes or the teachers in our lives for inspiration. For Heather Ashton, her inspiration for joining Jeff Stelling’s Men United March was both.
"My own support for the charity came about because my ex-college PE lecturer, Ken Hassall, suffered from prostate cancer," she says. "He was a goalkeeper for the Welsh International Amateur team from 1939 to 1948, and was on the books of Manchester United before the war as an 18-year-old. After serving in the RAF as a navigator, he went into teaching but continued to play football as an amateur, playing for several clubs, including Shrewsbury Town."
When Heather left college in 1972, she took up PE teaching in Haycock, Lancashire. She kept in touch with Ken through Christmas cards and quick visits if she was in the Colwyn Bay area, where Ken was living with his wife.
"Ken was diagnosed with prostate cancer in 2002 and his wife died very soon after," says Heather. "A few months later, when he was told the cancer had already spread to his bones, he moved from Colwyn Bay and came to live with us in Bishop’s Castle, Shropshire.
"He was a wonderful man and kept cheerful despite his prostate cancer. He was an inspiration to a lot of fellow patients during his spells in hospital and we were privileged to share the last four years of his life until he died in 2006. Since then, I have tried to promote awareness of prostate cancer wherever possible."
Taking on day six of the march, through the Midlands from Wolverhampton to Birmingham, Heather is looking forward to the challenge. “I’m delighted to be raising awareness and much needed money to help the fight against prostate cancer,” she says.
A seasoned fundraiser, Heather has organised the British Stone Skimming Championships in Shropshire since 2008. It started off as a one-off event, but was such a success they decided to make it an annual competition. With pun-tastic categories, such as Rolling the Stone, Piling Stones, No Stone Unturned and all-time favourite, Stone the Crows, this has become a popular event in the local calendar.
“My support hasn’t always just been about raising money," says Heather. "Ken was diagnosed far too late, despite showing obvious symptoms and being very unwell. If my efforts can prompt just one man to go for a test, it will be worth a few blisters.”