Russ brookes cycling for Winston's Wish in coral jersey

Russ’s epic fundraising journey in support of grieving children

Russ Brookes has been an incredibly active and long standing supporter of Winston’s Wish. He’s taken on numerous challenges including multiple marathons, the famously difficult Dragon Ride and even donned an inflatable dinosaur costume as part of his efforts. He now has an epic year ahead of him taking on both the hilly Giant’s Head marathon and London to Paris Cycling challenges. We asked him to tell us more about his motivations in taking on such a wealth of challenges and his fantastic achievements to date.

When did you begin fundraising for Winston’s Wish and what prompted you to start?

I began Fundraising about 10 years ago. It came about from a phase in my life of starting to want to get myself in shape and I’d been feeling a bit listless and lacking direction. My dad (who took his own life when I was 11) had been on my mind quite a lot and I wanted to do something to remember him. Doing something for Winston’s Wish, who helped me and my family so much when I was a boy, felt the logical choice so I signed up to do Land’s End to John O’Groats and really had no idea what I was letting myself in for! I’m significantly fitter than I was then, so the challenge coupled with the fundraising caught me off guard somewhat! The event was amazing though, challenging but allowed me to see the country and was a great way to make peace with how I’d been feeling at the time. It was the start of learning how good for my mental health exercise and fundraising was and It is something I’ve continued to do.

Russ Brookes in inflatable dinosaur costume and running gear in his garden

What challenges have you taken on to date?

Alongside this I’ve done Ride London twice, The Dragon ride, London Marathon, Brighton Marathon and a few others, that I’ve lost track off… I definitely got the fitness bug and love challenging myself.

I was going to take a break, but lockdown happened and watching Tom Moore and the other fundraising going on, I felt I had to do something. So I did a garden Marathon for the Charity and that remains the most mentally testing Marathon I’ve ever done. This then led to doing the virtual London Marathon in an inflatable dinosaur costume (not my best idea!) My wife, Em and I had suffered two miscarriages and the end of our journey to have a child naturally, so Lockdown was very hard on us. Having the events, coupled with a return to counselling, helped me to keep going and I get as much out of doing the events as the charity does.

Why is 2022 a poignant year for you and your fundraising and what do you have planned?

It’s poignant for a number of reasons. We are currently going through Adoption and part of the process is looking at your past and this has brought up me thinking more of my relationship with Dad and his suicide. It’s made me think more of it as a perspective of him as a Father and what he must have felt, the pain and the hurt he must have endured to feel we were better off with out him. And also to remember how lucky I was to have an amazing childhood with him and then with Mum and my stepdad later. I know how big a part Winston’s Wish and Counselling have played in that, so continuing to fundraise for was something I wanted to do. It’s a great outlet from the stress and challenges of the adoption process and gives me a motivation to ensure I train!

Coupled with that, In October I turn 41, which is the age Dad was when he passed away. It’s been quite hard getting my head round it, 30 years without him. I miss him a lot right now, wishing I could talk about all I’ve been through or just having a pint and watching the rugby with him. I missed so much and with Adoption it’s stuff I want to do with a child of my own. I’m slowly making peace with where I am in life, of how he must have felt, as I get to have more empathy of how it feels to be a dad, to be an adult and have the responsibilities. I’m learning to live my life for me and not him, although he will always be a massive part of life. He loved rugby and cycling and these both shaped my life. I loved watching the Tour De France with him and so cycling into France feels a great way to mark the occasion and hopefully raise money for Winston’s Wish.

Russ Brookes cycling

How is your training going so far for London to Paris and Giants Head?

It’s going! I have plans to follow but with adoption it’s been frustrating to not be following things as i’d like. But I’m learning to just roll with that and accept what I can and can’t control. I’ve a good few rides in and building to doing longer back to back days. Having my turbo trainer has helped in the colder months too. Running wise I’m getting into running weekly and building up my long runs. I have a half marathon in March in the Forest of Dean and that will be a good gauge of where I am. So it’s early days but I’m staying motivated and determined to do well on both, hopefully as I get nearer I’ll be hitting the events in good shape.

What have been your favourite and most difficult challenges that you’ve taken on for Winston’s Wish?

So as part of the fundraising for LEJOG, A friend had an idea for breaking the record for the Longest Game of Rugby ever played (at the time this was 25 hours, it’s significantly longer now!) We had no idea what we were in for but it was an amazing challenge, but the hardest I’ve done. Unfortunately although we played for 25 hours, with the injuries we had we didn’t have enough players on each side left for it to be an official record. We also played this a week after I’d finished LEJOG, so I was mentally and physically exhausted after that. I’ve also organised rugby games against the Cherry Pickers (the Ex Gloucester players) and this has led to me playing rugby at Kingsholm, a childhood dream, against some of my rugby heroes. Captaining a team of my mates against a team Captained by Mike Tindall is one of my best memories and I still have to pinch myself it happened!

We’re so grateful to Russ for his continued support of our work and mission to improve the lives of as many grieving children, young people and families as we can, and look forward to seeing him achieve even more amazing feats in the year ahead. If you’d like to sponsor Russ in September’s London to Paris Cycle ride you can do so here.