A County Durham business owner who underwent open-heart surgery at the age of 23, and lives with the risk of contracting a potentially life-threatening illness, has developed a virtual challenge to encourage people to get active and raise funds for the British Heart Foundation (BHF).
Darren Cutler is launching his Heart of the North challenge, which will encourage people to walk or run 266.3 miles – equivalent to covering the distance from Ashington to Penrith – at their own pace and in their own way.
Participants will log their mileage on an interactive map, where every Ebac Northern Football League club’s home ground will represent a checkpoint, along with several iconic landmarks. They can also encourage friends and family to sponsor them through a team JustGiving page, with the funds raised through this page going directly to the BHF.
The 44-year-old, who is managing director and sports therapist at Fit2TheCore Training Systems based in Consett, says the challenge will appeal to anyone.
“Here in the North East our football clubs are the heart of our communities, so I wanted to try and develop an incentive around people’s passion for their local team and appeal to the wider community,” said Darren, a dad of two.
“Heart of the North is suitable for anyone of any ability and is designed to get everyone out walking or running regularly to improve their physical and mental health.
“Runs or walks can be completed anywhere, and participants simply upload their mileage and can check where they are on a fully interactive map. Participants can also see how everyone is progressing, so there’s extra motivation in competing with family and friends wherever they may live.”
Darren was inspired to fundraise for the BHF after his personal battle with heart problems. He required open-heart surgery in 1999, where a piece of pig heart was used to repair the damage to his heart caused by a pseudoaneurysm. Darren then suffered two subsequent bouts of endocarditis, an infection of the heart lining that can be life-threatening.
However, he has never let any setbacks stop him and in December 2019 he began his fundraising efforts for the BHF by running 13 miles side-by-side with Dr. Michael Cave, the cardiologist who treated him. Darren has since raised over £2,000 for the BHF.
He hopes his next challenge will help raise even more funds for the charity, which carries out life-saving research into heart and circulatory diseases such as heart disease, stroke and vascular dementia, and their risk factors including diabetes and high blood pressure.
Darren added: “My hope is that I can give something back to the BHF whilst getting as many people as possible active and outside to explore what’s on their doorstep. With a bit of luck, the initiative might have a wider reach and showcase our region and, of course, our football clubs.”
Around 360,000 people are living with heart and circulatory diseases in the North East of England – and shockingly, every 70 minutes, someone in the region dies from these conditions.
Due to the impact of the Covid-19 pandemic, the BHF’s funding for new research into these conditions has halved this year alone.
Jodie Shepherd, Area Fundraising Manager at the BHF, said: “We are so grateful that Darren will be launching this challenge to help raise funds for the BHF’s vital research.
“Our research to save and improve lives can only be funded thanks to the generous support of the public. Due to the reduction in our income, this support has simply never been more needed, so we hope this encourages people to sign up and take part.”
Entry for the Heart of the North challenge costs £19.99, with £2 per entry going towards the BHF. Participants will also be encouraged to raise further funds for the BHF through the team JustGiving page at www.justgiving.com/fundraising/heartofthenorthcommunity
To sign up for the Heart of the North challenge, visit www.fit2thecore.uk/virtual-challenges