When Lesley Drew first mentioned to me that an all-night sports event might make quite a good charity fundraiser, my first, second and third reactions were all “Yes, obviously!” My fourth reaction was to admonish myself for not having the idea independently. It sounded like far more fun than is usually allowed on a Friday night and had the promise of half term following it to normalise any confused circadian clocks.
The plan for the event pretty much wrote itself. Things needed to be kept fresh, was our advice from the experienced: a different sport each hour would be ideal. Given that the English weather in February is usually English, we decided to keep everything in the Gym, where hell, high water, high winds or anything else would have no effect. So, to find ten different sports suited to the gym was task 2. Task 1 was to find 32 volunteers to form four teams to do battle. I didn’t anticipate any difficulty with this and we found them without major or repeated advertising. Then we lost a load (I mean, who would book a skiing holiday in February?) and found a load more, one or two got injured (again, selfish) and at kick-off we had 30, including four staff as team captains.
Battle was to be done with badminton rackets, cricket bats, bicycles, Malawi footballs (you’ll see), a normal football, a basketball, table tennis bats, a netball, four ergos and a volleyball. A few came in to support the start before Houses were locked for the night; one, Toby Vickers (M V), thought the idea such magnificent fun that he stayed all night (having sought Housemaster’s permission, of course). Dom Dootson (M LVI) and Henry Thomas (Ch V) quickly volunteered to put together a playlist and the result was brilliant! At least I enjoyed, at 4am, bellowing along to Sultans of Swing!
To cap it off, Steve Fox had developed the sort of detachment with usual good sense with which an entire practice of psychiatrists would be delighted and of which he should be very proud indeed. Having visited Malawi in 2012, he wanted to do something to help raise money for the Eye Clinic and decided that a nice long stint on an ergo should do it. I did not previously think (nor do I now) that the words “nice” and “ergo” sit very comfortably together, especially not when qualified with “long”. But there it was: a marathon (42,195m) with a target of three hours for completion (and to earn a bonus on donations). To make sure it was not too easy, he elected to do it between 2.00 am and 5.00 am: a nod to the three Old Salopians who recently rowed the Atlantic in two-hour shifts and for whom the 2.00 - 4.00 graveyard slot would be especially traumatic.
As well as the fun of the ten sports, we had impromptu batting/fielding practices, football skills displays (or ineptitude displays in some cases) and good simple games of catch going on at the side. Malawi football involved making a football out of plastic bags, rubber bands and string and then using it for a penalty shoot-out. Minus points for disintegration of ball. So when one ball had been completed, was being knocked around and flew up in a high arc, it was hugely unsportsmanlike and uncivil of SKPC to take a few paces (chuckling wickedly to himself, it’s rumoured) and take an enormous swing at the volley. Minor structural surgery, reinforcement and a few glares followed. Dr Charlie Oakley was scorer for the night, was the only one who seemed to know what was going on all the time and kept scores projected onto a screen showing the teams’ progress. Dodgeball was added at short notice and was considered an excellent idea by all.
Steve Fox arrived to prepare for his 2.00 am start, accompanied by Brandt Beckerman (O UVI) whose flight home to Germany had been delayed and who thought, at short notice, he’d have a go at the ergo marathon too. Barnaby Fox ( PH IV, son of Steve) withdrew from joining in as a super sub wherever required and put on his main hat: marathon boat support crew. A third ergo was manned by the “rest of the world” team. Rest of the world in this case being defined as anyone else in the Gym at the time, rowing in shifts. In hour three Steve had to battle cramp but he continued at the pace he had set himself, always keeping his projected time around 2:58’. To increasing encouragement from his support crew – now augmented by everyone else as we’d managed to conclude netball – he rowed over the line in 2:57’46.6”. Brandt completed, even faster, though I’d note he hasn’t recently notched up his half century!
Though a few participants admitted trepidation at the beginning of the night, I was thoroughly impressed that not a single grump was had by anyone (have to admit I came close once, on losing… again) and, barring perfectly legitimate 10 or 20-minute naps when not actively needed (I have photos), everyone stayed the course through to completion. We were treated to a full cooked breakfast in KH (much bacon) and my favourite comment from a participant since is that he remembers walking through his bedroom door, then nothing until his mother shook him awake three hours later having come to pick him up! A lot of us re-surfaced for parent meetings at 11am.
I suppose I’ll have to admit that, when 7.00 am swung around, Spencer Gunnell’s team had won handsomely despite all of my attempts to rig the system.
- Everyone who came to support, including the Headmaster, Richard Hudson, Marcus Johnson, Paul Vicars (3.00 till 5.00am!);
- Stephen Drew (Chief Exec of Medic Malawi) for advice;
- Alex Davies, theatre technician, and Rick Smith of IT for setting up the laptop, screen and projector;
- Chris Scrimshaw for turning up at 3.00 am to help see us through to the close uninjured;
- Dom Dootson who, with Henry Thomas, put together a playlist for the evening;
- Paul Kaye for organising the cycling superbly and being around for the first few hours to help set up and run things;
- Charlie Oakley, for keeping time, scores and a level head;
- Lesley Drew for constant support, and doing all of the non-sport-related organisational work before the event;
- Katie Collins for doing most of the sport-related organisational work before the event;
- Everyone who generously made donations to Medic Malawi and supported us in our endeavours;
- And finally to everyone who took part so cheerfully and helped us raise over £2,200 and counting, which represents over 70 operations to restore sight to someone in Malawi.
Ladies, Gentlemen, it was epic; it was a pleasure. I genuinely hope to do it again sometime!
Please click on the image below to view a short video giving a taste of the atmosphere during Steve Fox's tremendous Ergo Marathon.