A female firefighter from Gloucestershire has made it into the record books by being the first person to walk from Britain’s most easterly point to its most westerly in one month. And she did it all to raise funds and awareness for The Fire Fighters Charity.
A premiership rugby player who has represented England on an international level, Sasha was awaiting an operating on her shoulder having dislocated it in January. After months of not being able to do what she loved, and sick of the feeling of isolation, she decided to do something about it.
“I’ve always been a massive fan of positive mental health action, controlling your controllables,” she says. “I decided before I felt any lower about my condition, I would do something to help others. I sat down with a friend and worked out what I could do, focusing on things I liked. I knew I liked being outdoors, seeing friends, having daily achievements and setting challenges for myself that are out of the ordinary.”
Sasha is no stranger to superhuman feats, cycling with a friend from Land’s End to John O’Groats and back in 2013 and becoming the first women to ever do so: “I knew I had to do something equally as bonkers to our last challenge, or people wouldn’t sponsor me if it was anything less,” she says. “It had to be something pretty out there for people to take note.”
Having covered the vertical height of the country, she decided it was time to conquer the horizontal width. With just six weeks until her operation date, three days after deciding to tackle the 500-mile distance, Sasha set off from Ness Point in Lowestoft with her sights set on Land’s End.
“My friends thought I was crazy, but I said it surely can’t be that hard, putting one foot in front of the other each day,” she says. “I’d done absolutely no training, but I just thought it’s walking, how bad can it be? How stupid I am…!”
On average, Sasha walked the equivalent of a marathon every day for a month, raising nearly £4,000 in the process. Fire and Rescue Services along the route picked up Sasha’s battle cry, and throughout the route she was joined by various personnel and friends from her rugby world.
“It blew up far beyond what I expected and was great to tie my two worlds of fire and rugby together,” she says. “People walked with me, brigades would put their blues on or play music over the tannoy for my arrival and I spoke to BBC radio in every county I passed through.”
Sasha would upload daily videos where she shared her progress, the good, the bad and the ugly: “I was honest when I was having a tough day, if it was just a ‘Get it Done’ day, or if I was having a good day,” she says. “I was connecting with people all across the country, and it affirmed to me how much everything evolves and changes. It’s okay to not be okay and to be really great. I asked for help when I needed it, and people always responded, picking me up at the end of the day or offering me somewhere to sleep.
“The feeling of achievement every day is what kept me going, knowing I was doing good. I just concentrated on putting one foot in front of the other, and some days were tougher than others, but there was never an option not to do it, because I was accountable to our Charity. My aim was to get a donation every day, no matter how small.”
Sasha had already applied for help from the Charity to pre-empt her surgery recovery, and had been offered a conditional place, depending on the timings of her recovery. So in an unusual twist, she decided to say thank you beforehand, and committed to raising as much as she could for the Charity.
“I know the benefits the Charity brings, and I am absolutely blown away by the fact I’m lucky enough to be in a job with a charity associated that offers world-class support,” she says. “I had no idea the Charity even existed before I became a firefighter; I figured if you’re going to do something bonkers, you might as well do it for a good reason, and say thank you to this amazing Charity by telling more people about them.”
Sasha had her operation a couple of weeks ago, and is already looking forward to getting her health back to a point where she can visit one of our centres. But in the meantime, she is just reflecting on the people who helped her complete her mission.
“I just want to say thank you to everyone who supported me and followed my journey,” she says. “From the people who put me up and fed me, to The Warrior Programme in Bristol who are helping me gain back the weight and muscle tone I lost from walking every day. The people commenting on my social media posts and offering their support, saying such amazing things, just showed me such encouragement.
“My walk really taught me a lot about myself and my mental toughness,” she says. “I learned to appreciate the little things, like the sun coming out after the rain, or buying a new pair of walking boots! The best was when I was joined by different people along my route. One London Fire Brigade firefighter drove to Hertfordshire to meet me, having finished a night shift, just so she could bring me a coffee! I was blown away by the kindness and charity of strangers, and I felt so welcomed by the fire and rescue community in every county I visited. It was utterly profound, there’s just no other word for it. I’ve only been in the fire service for two years, but I really feel like a part of it, and part of something bigger.”