In a heartwarming display of unity and dedication, eight members of Devon University Royal Naval Unit (URNU) embarked on an extraordinary journey last month to support RNRMC and Defence Medical Welfare service. Their efforts did not go unnoticed, receiving widespread media coverage, which helped spread the word about the RNRMC's essential work. We had the privilege of sitting down with Freja, a member of this exceptional team, to learn more about their inspiring walk and unwavering commitment to RNRMC and the Defence Medical Welfare Service.
So, Freja, for anyone who doesn’t know, could you share a bit about yourself and how you decided to fundraise for RNRMC and the Defence Medical Welfare service?
“My name is Freja, I’m a medical officer cadet with the RN and I’ll be going into my fourth year at the university of Exeter. I helped organize a charity hike with URNU Devon. We hiked from Lansden to Plymouth which was a distance of over 160 miles. It was a team of seven walkers and one support vehicle from the URNU unit and we did this to raise money for RNRMC and the Defence Medical Welfare service. So far, we have been able to raise just over 1,300.
A huge thank you also needs to go out to our commanding officer and the RNRMC to help get the challenge of the ground!”
What inspired you and the URNU Devon team to take on this epic walk for our charity?
“My involvement with RNRMC started in 2021 when my brother and I realized how much impact the COVID lockdowns had on peoples’ lives, and that was during my first year of university. It felt like I had just been floating through my first year and so I wanted to set a big challenge for myself, both mentally and physically but also to give back to the wider naval community.
We completed the Coast to Coast walk in the Yorkshire Dales and that really demonstrated to me the power of exercise and how important resilience comes from going out of your comfort zone. I wanted to give this opportunity to other people, to give other people this, especially if they didn’t have the knowledge or experience to run their own fundraising challenge.
So last summer was the first time I ran with the URNU unit, and that made me decide to do the epic hike this summer.
We chose RNRMC because many of the officer cadets in the unit aspire to join the navy in some capacity after graduation and we know that RNRMC is the principal charity of the navy. RNRMC has given so much support, both to us as a unit and across the entire naval service and so we took it upon ourselves to give back to them and raise some money for the amazing work they do.”
What was the most challenging part of your journey, and how did you and the URNU team overcome it?
“To be fair, the most challenging part of it was probably the unpredictable British summer weather! During the hike, we had two yellow weather warnings for wind. We obviously had storm Anthony, a lot of rain and then, some days, it was really hot and sunny! The first day was actually really rainy, and a lot of people’s feet were in quite bad condition for the majority of the hike, which proved to be quite the challenge.
I think the hardest days were probably when we were walking against the wind during storm Anthony. It was not only physically exhausting, but I think a lot of people in the team were fighting a real mental battle to keep on going rather than taking the easy option and just stopping. Putting a smile on our faces for everyone else despite feeling exhausted was tough as well, but it was all worth it in the end.”
How do you prepare for that unpredictability?
“When I was giving the hike briefings, we had to cover every eventuality because we were giving them a month in advance. You need to have everything for hot weather, make sure you carry enough water in case it’s really sunny, suncream, sun hats, everything! We had A LOT of kit, but it’s so important to be prepared.”
Can you describe some of the most memorable moments or interactions you had during the walk?
“Our most memorable interaction was when we bumped into two hikers, who were much older than us, on the coastal path. We started chatting to them and we noticed they had huge bags- they had clearly walked a long way. For context, we were on day seven of our hike at this point. They told us that they were on day one hundred!
They had started in March to raise money for MS Society UK. One of them was on crutches, and he was persevering. We were all in awe- it was really inspiring. That, for me and I think the entire team, put everything in perspective - it was very humbling to say the least! We just thought then that we needed to get our heads down and get it done. Although people were struggling at that point in our team, it made us realize that it was only temporary and that it’s a lot easier than what many others are going through right now.
Apart from that, my most memorable moment would probably be finishing on the breakwater, having that sense of achievement and recognition from everyone else. It had been a really tough few days, but it was a real privilege to get out there and do it to raise money for two great charities.”
How did you prepare yourself physically and mentally for such a demanding undertaking?
“So, when we were setting up in the first place, we had seven hikers sign up. They had a range of prior experiences and abilities. We were keen to make sure that everyone who wanted to get involved could. That meant that preparation had to start months in advance with medicals, safety, kit briefs, all the admin in the background. Making sure that everyone was maximally prepared.
We completed a 20-mile practice hike with the team in June. This was to ensure that everyone worked well as a team, to give the team a chance to bond and to check a base level of fitness for everyone. I was also regularly monitoring everyone’s training efforts on Strava, keeping a check on it all.
Bonding as a team on the practice hike meant that when we were doing the 10 days, we were able to look out for each other a bit more and realize when someone either needed more space or more support. The team dynamic was what helped everyone get through.
Josh was the main person, besides me, helping organize it all. He was driving the support vehicle which was amazing, and our CO brought morale throughout the week when people were down.”
What advice would you give to others who are considering fundraising for RNRMC in a similar way?
“Something like this is such a mental battle and I think a lot of people actually found the first day the hardest because your body is still adjusting to the challenge. It’s not normal to just get up and walk 20 miles. Having that mental knowledge that you just have to keep going for 10 days, even though you are already hurting, it’s really hard. In a sense, your body gets used to a routine, it gets used to getting up at 6am and hiking straight away. Your body can be pushed a lot further than you realize- it is just about unlocking that part of your brain.
In terms of advice, I would say surrounding yourself with a good group of people to keep yourself smiling is really, important.”
And finally, how do you see your experience with this epic walk influencing your future involvement with RNRMC?
“Interestingly, on the hike, we were actually talking about what we want to do next for RNRMC and Defence Medical Welfare service! People needed a week or two to recover but it is the definition of type 2 fun, we’ve got the fundraising bug! We want to keep on challenging ourselves.
Having completed challenges for the past two years, as a unit, we are keen to keep the relationship with RNRMC going and to continue to give new officer cadets coming through the unit the opportunity to push themselves out of their comfort zones.
We are all a bit crazy, and the fact that at the end of the walk we were wanting to see what we could do next year definitely means everyone truly does get something out of the fundraising experience.”
Thanks so much Freja, everyone at RNRMC really appreciates all the amazing effort you and your team put in to raise money for us!
In conclusion, Freja’s, and the entire URNU team's remarkable journey exemplifies the power of collective action and the unwavering support they have for the Royal Navy and Royal Marines Charity. Their dedication and determination inspire us all to stand together and make a positive impact on the lives of those who protect our shores.
A huge thank you to Freja for sharing her experience and giving us a deeper insight into the entire URNU team's remarkable journey. This feat truly exemplifies the power of collective action and the unwavering support they have bolstered for RNRMC and the Defence Medical Welfare service. We can’t wait to see what the future holds for URNU Devon!
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