With the prospect of a 100 kilometre walk ahead of him, ALERT supporter Jay Fiers was wishing he had managed to get a little more sleep the night before. Nearly falling asleep in the car on the way to the starting line of the ominously named Dodentocht; the Death March in Belgium, wasn’t the best way to begin the event. But when Jay met up with his walking partner and fellow fundraiser, Stefan Cramers, he began to prepare himself mentally and physically for the challenge ahead.
At 9pm on August 9th, Jay and Stefan set off walking through the night; at first without any problems. Jay said: ‘I felt like I could walk all night, until we were approaching the 40 kilometre checkpoint when I started to feel tension building in my legs. Before long, my body was desperately asking to rest’. Jay almost fainted at this point due to a lack of sugar in his body, but with deadlines in place to reach each checkpoint and the threat of falling asleep if you stopped for too long, respite was brief. By this time it was around 5.30am and the walkers had not even reached the halfway mark. Although this turned out to be one of the hardest points of the whole walk for Jay, failure wasn’t an option.
By 8am, they had walked 50 kilometres and, with the dawning of a new day, Jay felt a new sense of strength. At this stage, checkpoints were in place every 5 kilometres which was a psychological boost, as was the thought of holding up the World Lion Day banner Jay had made to raise when he approached the finish line. Thoughts of how satisfying this would feel kept Jay going, as well as Stefan, who was experiencing his own difficult times during the second half of the walk.
The pair had to fight to reach the 65kilometre checkpoint on time. So determined they were to pick up the pace, that they managed to arrive a full 30 minutes ahead of schedule. After that, they continued to keep a good speed and Jay experienced a renewed feeling of energy. ‘My legs were actually in less pain, the faster I walked’, he said.
A banner between two houses marked the start of the final 500 metres. From this point, crowds had gathered to cheer the walkers home. This stage of the walk was very emotional for Jay. He was listening to music on his headphones and focusing on the moment he had been preparing towards for so long. ‘Finally when I saw the finish line ahead and raised my banner, I felt I could have cried’, he recalled. ‘A walk like this makes you emotional. A lack of sleep and the continuing physical pain makes it a very intense experience’.
As Stefan had crossed the finish line slightly earlier, he walked back to meet Jay and together they finished the Death March side-by-side, World Lion Day banner held high. As they were nearing the end, a voice on a loud speaker invited those assembled to ‘Show support for the first World Lion Day which Jay Fiers was walking for’. Stefan had arranged for the announcement to be made, which Jay was very grateful for, as people applauded his efforts. The message he had set out to spread 100 kilometres earlier had been well and truly delivered. ‘I was so relieved and glad that I had finished the walk’, said Jay. ‘World Lion Day was such a special occasion for me. My feet might have been in Belgium, but my heart was in Africa!’
ALERT would like to offer Jay congratulations on his huge achievement and sincere thanks for his support. Jay’s JustGiving fundraising page is open until September 17th. Now you know how much he has put himself through to raise money for ALERT and awareness of World Lion Day, PLEASE show Jay your support here.
If you would like to organise a fundraising event on ALERT’s behalf, we would be very grateful. Please contact ALERT’s Development Co-ordinator Helen Rennie to discuss your idea at: firstname.lastname@example.org.