At an age when many people are thinking of taking life easy, a North Tyneside man is preparing for the challenge of a lifetime in the blazing heat of the Sahara Desert. Retired civil servant John Dunwoodie, who turns 65 in April, aims to complete two marathons in two consecutive days in sweltering conditions to raise funds for Alzheimer’s Society.
John’s father, also called John, died with dementia in 2012, so he has set himself the daunting task to mark the 10th anniversary of his passing.
A real challenge
The challenge will pit John against the elements and a punishing terrain as he attempts to run, jog or walk 52 miles over two days in temperatures soaring into the high 30s.
“Dad would think I was crazy for attempting this at my age, but at the same time I know he’d be very proud of me.
“He was a lovely fella – a former bus driver who lived in High Howdon all his life. It was sad to see him struggle with dementia but in many ways our family was lucky because he still knew who we were right up to the end.
“We used to have the same conversations day in, day out, and towards the end he lost a lot of confidence and became a little reclusive after having a few falls, but thankfully he never got to the stage where he would forget the important people in his life.”
The daunting double marathon in Morocco will take John from the lush Draa Valley to the sun-baked Saharan dunes. He has been training by trekking on the beach at Seaton Sluice, building up his stamina and getting used to the shifting sands underfoot.
He is financing the trip out of his own pocket, meaning all donations will go directly to Alzheimer’s Society. And that’s not all he is doing for the charity.
Newcastle’s Glow Walk
John has also signed up to be a volunteer for Newcastle’s Glow Walk on March 5. The popular annual event returns to the city following the lifting of Covid restrictions, with hundreds of people expected to take part in the 5km night walk, starting and finishing at Times Square.
“It’s not the first time I’ve volunteered for Glow but I’m especially looking forward to this year’s event. I think people are ready to get out and enjoy themselves again and there’s always a fabulous atmosphere at Glow.
“Since retiring I’ve found a new life as a professional volunteer. It all started back in 2012 when I became a Gamesmaker for the London Olympic Games, working at events in Newcastle as an official driver for VIPs.
“I’ve volunteered all around the UK, including Buckingham Palace, the Tour de France, Ashes matches, Rugby Union, Cricket and Athletic World Championships as well as non-sporting events such as the Great Exhibition of the North, the Tall Ships in Sunderland, Lumiere in Durham – and every year I volunteer at Durham Christmas market.
“Thankfully my wife Maureen is very supportive of my various challenges and volunteering roles – I couldn’t have done it without that support.”
Volunteering at vaccination centres
More recently, John has given up much of his time over the past 12 months to volunteer at numerous Covid vaccination centres in North Tyneside.
“I wanted to keep myself occupied and to help as much as I could because of the dreadful situation we found ourselves in. It really concerns me that while many people have had two jabs, they have yet to get their booster.
“I don’t know if that’s down to apathy, but I would urge anyone who is having doubts to go ahead and have their booster. I think it’s really important.”
Living with dementia
There are 900,000 people living with dementia in the UK, including 39,000 across the North East and more than 3,000 in North Tyneside. By 2025, the national figure will be one million.
Siobhan Marsh, Community Fundraiser for Alzheimer’s Society in the North East, said: “It has been an incredibly difficult two years for people affected by dementia and they need our support now more than ever.
“I’m in awe of people like John who is taking on a phenomenal challenge that not only raises awareness of the condition but also funds that will enable us to reach more people through our vital services, like the Dementia Connect support line, which is 0333 150 3456.”
Anyone wishing to support John can do so by visiting his Just Giving page at www.justgiving.com/greatsaharachallenge2022-johndunwoodie
Anyone wishing to find out more about Newcastle’s night time Glow Walk on March 5 should visit https://www.alzheimers.org.uk/memory-walk/glow/newcastle