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Friday, November 12, 1999 Published at 11:29 GMT


Botham's 15-year walk nears End

Ian Botham, en route a final time from John O'Groats

Ian Botham holds a special place in the affections of English cricket.

His reputation for having the guts and ability to withstand hostile attack, with the nation's hopes riding on his efforts, stands alone.

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But his gargantuan effort in raising money for leukaemia research over the last 15 years has earned him a respect no amount of centuries could.

As he reaches Land's End from his starting point of 874 miles and 34 days away, he can be satisfied with a job well done.

As well as raising awareness of leukaemia, he has raised £3.5m, and walked 3,500 miles.

That means he has raised cash at an average of £1,000 a mile. He hopes to top £4m by the time the money is collected for this walk.

In those 15 years, the survival chances of children diagnosed with leukaemia have risen from 20% to 80%. Botham says he will not stop until they reach 100%.

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He will have completed this walk in a day less than it took him to do his original 1985 John O'Groats to Land's End stretch. And - unlike his first trek - people have been able to watch his progress online through GPS tracking.

Now 43, the effort of walking the length of a marathon takes its toll. He has been packed in ice every night, slept with his feet in the air, and had intensive physiotherapy to help his body cope with the strain.

His walks have taken him all round the British Isles, and famously to the Alps, where he tried to recreate Hannibal's journey with elephants.

The elephants, which had come from a circus, could not keep up with Botham, and were retired from the bid after five miles.

His inspiration for the whole mammoth fund-raising effort was sparked by a visit to a Taunton hospital to receive treatment for an injured foot.

[ image: The walk's website has been tracking Beefy's progress via GPS]
The walk's website has been tracking Beefy's progress via GPS
There he met children suffering from the disease.

"They were playing board games and looked pretty lively to me - so I was absolutely stunned when a doctor explained they were unlikely to survive," he said. "Nothing prepares you for talking to a child who is going to die.

"I felt so helpless, yet I couldn't get these children out of my mind. I really wanted to do something for them. I've always been a keen walker and, because so much money is needed for research, I knew I could raise a considerable amount by drumming up sponsorship for walks."

Ian Botham speaks to BBC Breakfast News
Although this is his last walk, he intends to continue raising funds - he has a charity golf match planned for next year.

He also boosted the fund's coffers by having his head shaved with dozens of members of the New Zealand police at the England Test in Wellington in 1997.

Now a television commentator, Botham was not always so respected. He maintains that Lord's is "petrified" of him, and his colourful lifestyle made him tabloid fodder for years.

But he is characteristically unabashed (the subtitle of his autobiography was "Don't tell Kath" - his wife). When asked by a reader of the Independent what he would do if he found out that his son was living up to his own reputation, he had a simple answer.

"I'd say he was having a great time," he said.

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Above and left, how Botham looked on his first walk from John O'Groats to Land's End in 1985. Top, with a stripagram and, above, having finished the walk with his 16-day-old daughter Rebecca.

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Above, on his Belfast to Dublin walk in 1987. It was the following year that he did his famous walk across the Alps with elephants, left and below. Although the elephants didn't make it, they still joined in the celebrations at the end.

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At journey's end in France, left. This year's walk is Botham's last, he says. But the fundraising will carry on.

Donations can be made on 0181 466 4646, or online at

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