73-year-old great grandad gets hero's welcome at end of year-round walking challenge for Warwick charity
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Tony Cunningham, who underwent a quadruple heart bypass, raised more than £10,000 for Molly Ollys by clocking up over 5,050 miles (around 10 million steps) on his morning laps around of Coventry Memorial Park.
And he was cheered on by family, friends and supporters, ahead of his final circuit on New Year’s Eve – followed by the weekly Park Run – introduced by Warwick’s Town Crier Michael Reddy.
Tony, from Coventry, only missed seven 6am starts on the advice of doctors, insisting the charity as well as the support he received, made him determined to see the challenge through.
He said: “Several things keep me motivated. Most of all I don’t want to let down the children and their families who are helped by Molly Ollys.
“Getting up at 5am and walking between 10 and 18 miles a day every day is a challenge in itself, but the weather can make it even more so.
“I missed seven days in the park, although I still walked some distance, on one occasion I was in hospital with suspected blood clots, and on another occasion I had a chest infection which I’m prone to.
"I said at the outset that I didn’t know if I could complete this challenge, I must confess to a sense of achievement.”
Tony said he was spurred on every day by the memory of his late wife Jackie of 47 years, who died of cancer last year.
“I feel like she has been with me in spirit throughout. I think it has surprised a lot of people that I’ve kept it up.”
Some of Tony’s most poignant memories from his challenge include meeting three mums in the park whose children were helped by the charity and bumping into two nurses at University Hospitals Coventry and Warwickshire who helped him through his own operation five years ago.
A special welcoming committee on Tony’s last day included family and friends, Warwick Town Crier and Coventry artist Jenny Suffield MA who was so inspired by Tony, she created a drawing in his honour.
Tony said: “The picture is now hanging up in my lounge at home. This, along with the friendships that I’ve forged and the memory of my final day are things I will treasure for the rest of my life.”
“I had long suspected that my last day would be a day of mixed emotions, sad that it would finally be over, on the other hand a sense of achievement.”
Warwick-based Molly Ollys was established following the death of Rachel and Tim Ollerenshaw’s eight-year-old daughter Molly from a rare kidney cancer.
The charity supports children with life-threatening illnesses and their families.
Rachel said: “What an truly amazing man Tony is. He is a man of his word and once he committed to doing this huge challenge, there was no way he was going to miss a day – unless he was ill.
"He is an extraordinary person who is determined to make a difference. The money he has raised will make such a difference to the families that we support.”
To donate to Tony’s fundraising page go to: https://www.justgiving.com/fundraising/anthony-cunningham5