Holding out for a hero
When his friend Hayley was diagnosed with terminal bowel cancer, John Counsell formed the charity Hayley’s Heroes
Hayley Martin was diagnosed with bowel cancer in 2011. She was given the option of having treatment but it meant that she might not be able to have children. She had six months of chemotherapy treatment and was given the all clear, after which she fell pregnant and gave birth to a little boy, Freddie. Unfortunately, the cancer returned and Hayley was told that this time it was terminal. Hayley wrote down a bucket list of things she wanted to do and on that list was to ﬂ y Freddie on holiday to Barbados.
This is where Hayley’s friend John stepped in and set up Hayley’s Heroes to raise money to pay for the ﬂights and holiday. The aim of the Heroes, who at that point counted John as their only member, was to train for and swim the 2-mile event at the Great North Swim in Lake Windermere. Bearing in mind that John couldn’t swim a 25m length this was a pretty impressive target! John started training at the local leisure centre under the guidance of swim coach Lee Gillespie. He bought a wetsuit and took the open water plunge at Leybourne Lakes. By now the Heroes had grown in size to six, including Simon Dyson, who planned to double up on the 2-mile and 5km swims in Windermere. Simon set about helping John to train for open water, long distance swimming.
While Hayley was receiving treatment she was also working to raise funds for the Charles Dickens chemotherapy day care unit at Maidstone Hospital and the Hair and Beauty Benevolent Fund (HABB), which Hayley is the face of. Hayley hosted a charity ball and raised more than £12,000. John arranged a boxing night at the Westree Amateur Boxing Club and raised in excess of £8,000. Hayley was guest of honour and was awarded the ‘Fighter of the Night’ trophy.
At Windermere, Simon swam the 5km on the Friday and then joined forces with John, Lee and six others for the 2-mile event on the Sunday. They all completed the swim and were cheered on by Hayley and her family, who had come along to give support.
Since Windermere, John has swum the Great Manchester Swim and the Great London Swim. In October, he swam the 2km Macmillan Lido Challenge at Tooting Bec Lido in London. Next season he will attempt his ﬁrst 5km event. A year ago John couldn’t swim a full length. He has worked tirelessly not only at his swimming but also to form the charity to show Hayley that while she ﬁghts, Hayley’s Heroes are also ﬁghting for her. So far Hayley’s Heroes have raised more than £9,000, which will go towards the holiday and helping other chemotherapy patients at the Charles Dickens day care unit.