After losing two grandparents to cancer just before the pandemic, an intrepid Durham campaigner is mid-way through a series of epic fundraising challenges including an Iron Man, the Coast-to-Coast cycling route, and playing 100 holes of golf on a single day.
Stu Thompson, 38, has lost both grandparents Fred and Valerie in the past three years - each to cancer and each just months after they were diagnosed. With half of his family living in Australia, the Covid pandemic made it even harder than it would have been for them to process their grief.
Now, Stu has completed three of five epic challenges as he looks to raise at least £10,000 for charity Macmillan Cancer Support. Stu - a deputy director at Durham University - has already completed the Northumbrian Iron Man, the Three Peaks Challenge and a coast-to-coast-to-coast cycle.
The Iron Man - and ultra-triathlon including 2.4 miles of swimming, 112 miles on his bike and a marathon run to finish - took place in June. Stu finished 10 of 200 finishers. In May he climbed to the top of Scafell Pike, Ben Nevis and Snowdon within 24 hours. And in April, not content with simply finishing the coast-to-coast cycling route, he added a return trip - back from Whitehaven to Roker in Sunderland.
Next up, on July 26 Stu will be taking on his golfing challenge, while in September he's taking part in the nine-day, 980 mile Ride Across Britain between Land's End and John O'Groats. So far he's smashed his £5,000 fundraising target and is now hoping to double that.
Stu said he had promised he wouldn't get "overly competitive" in the Iron Man, but said he hadn't managed that and was chuffed to place tenth. "I’m so grateful to all the support I’ve received," he said. "And after smashing my original donation target with two challenges to go in 2022 I thought it was right to double it and go for £10,000 and commit fully for the amazing charity Macmillan.
"What I’m putting myself through is nothing in comparison to what so many people who are affected by or living with cancer are going through right now."
Another inspiration was meeting Gary McKee - the Cumbria based "marathon man" who is in the midst of running a marathon every day of the year, also in aid of Macmillan. Stu and Gary met following his Coast-to-Coast challenge.
Stu, 38, is the eldest of four. But his parents and younger siblings Marcus and Sophie all live in Australia. Another brother Simon, 35, still lives locally though, and he drove more than 1,000 miles to ferry Stu and pals Andrew Graham and David Dukes between the highest mountains in England, Wales and Scotland during the Three Peaks Challenge.
Stu said: "We lost my grandparents Valerie and Fred three years ago quite suddenly. She went into hospital for something unrelated and discovered she had colon cancer which then quickly spread to her liver and we lost her within a few short months at 82 years old.
"This had understandably had a devastating effect on my grandad Fred, they had been married for 60 years. He then had the misfortune to slip and break his hip days before he was supposed to fly to Australia and whilst he was in hospital, they discovered he had advanced bowel cancer and he too died shortly after."
Despite the tragic circumstances, Stu paid tribute to the nursing staff and support from Macmillan which helped his family through. He added: "Macmillan nurses, palliative teams and healthcare assistants really helped support in this difficult period with pain relief, advice and additional care in the home and the hospital."
He said Covid restrictions and cancer had "hit my family hard" adding: "My mam was able to fly back for my grandma and then attend her funeral but because of the restrictions couldn’t get back to help my grandad or be at his funeral."