I thought a firewalk was going to be easy. That was until the moment on Saturday night when I was standing barefoot in cold wet grass about 2ft away from the burning hot embers ready to firewalk in aid of Sue Ryder Thorpe Hall Hospice.
In the two-hour training session moments before, led by Cliff Mann of Time 4 Change, I’d felt like I could have run across 20ft of hot coals several times over. But led outside into the shadows of the mansion house, I hadn’t quite expected to find knee-high flames and clearly the group of about 26 I was with hadn’t either judging by the phrases that could have turned the air blue had it not been quite so smokey.
Cliff had spent the training session telling us about the power of positive thinking and we all had a mantra to say, which I was hastily repeating in my head, as I neared the front of the queue. The huge crowd of supporters - and the group of us waiting on the sidelines - cheered loudly as each person took the seven or eight strides across the hot coals - quickly followed by the next person.
As eighth in the queue, my turn very quickly approached, my heart beating fast, my legs bouncing in anticipation.
Cliff shouted his mantra: ‘What’s your name?’
‘Are you ready?’
But then, just as I’m expecting him to scream ‘Go’, it’s ‘Stop’ that I’m met with instead. The flames that we’d earlier watched being beat into embers by Cliff and his team armed with spades are pushing back through. Cliff pushes his digital thermometer into the embers and he shows me the temperature reading before announcing it to the crowd: ‘651 degrees.’
We’d been told that the “safe” temperature to fire walk is between 500 and 700 degrees but I know from my own painful experience that your skin burns at considerably lower heats.
The positive mantra that was running through my head is soon replaced by fear and this time when he shouts ‘Are you ready?’ the response is ‘No.’ But he doesn’t care and shouts ‘Go’ anyway.
I remember looking down and seeing red embers. I felt the expression on my face and I remember vainly thinking the photo wouldn’t look good in the newspaper.
I can feel a tingling sensation and I’m aware of the change underfoot as I go from wet cold grass to burning hot embers and then back to the grass but despite seeing with my own eyes the thermometer, it doesn’t feel hot. In seconds it’s over and my shaking legs have reached the other side.
The queue reforms so we can continue cheering on our colleagues who have yet to firewalk. And suddenly Cliff is asking if we want to go again and with adrenalin buzzing, the whole group takes a second turn.
The second time goes just as quickly and I still don’t smile for the camera.
It is thanks to the support of my sponsors, who had handed over their hard-earned cash for this incredibly worthy cause, that I signed up.
Kim Elliott and Elaine Rignall are both volunteers at Thorpe Hall and were standing alongside me in the queue as we braved the firewalk. They are involved first-hand in the incredible care provided to every patient.
Kim, of Orton Longueville, said afterwards: “I didn’t know what to expect but the training session made you feel like you could do anything. I’m so glad I did it.”
And 71-year-old Elaine, of Stanground, added: “All my friends put on Facebook that I was completely mad and maybe I am! But it was brilliant. It’s nothing like you expect, you just don’t feel anything.”
Hours before we braved our soles to walk on fire, a group of nine even crazier people than us stepped onto shards of broken glass.
As our fire walk was fast, the “ice” part of the Fire and Ice challenge was slow and steady as each person stepped as though they were literally treading on egg shells. The air was filled with the sound of cracking glass even over the gasps of the crowd of supporters.
Jo Killick, events fundraiser at Thorpe Hall, added: “We are so proud of all our fire and ice walkers who took part in the challenge. Watching the range of emotions they went through from fear to determination and then elation afterwards reminded us of the enormity of what they had volunteered to do to raise money to support our work here at Thorpe Hall Hospice.”
I can only assume the reason my colleagues, family and friends sponsored me - and the rest of the Fire and Ice participants - was in the hope that the soles of our feet were burnt to a crisp or cut to ribbons because since Saturday, the only question I’ve been asked is: “How are your feet?”
My feet are fine thanks and I’ve raised more than £220 for Thorpe Hall. Patients at Thorpe Hall are often facing the most difficult challenge of their life, so in comparison, walking 20ft - something Cliff reminded us we’ve been training for since we were born - was hardly a challenge at all.
n For more visit www.thorpehall.org.