Ipswich Town fan completes epic cycle challenge in memory of school friend Charlie Watkins
PUBLISHED: 16:29 28 June 2019
Two friends have raised more than £7,000 after cycling across South America for a mental health service in memory of their school friend Charlie Watkins.
Roo Clark, from Stutton, and James Cotton from Northamptonshire spent 129-days cycling from Argentina to Colombia in their 'Top2Toe' journey to raise money for four charities that mean a lot to them - including the Charlie Watkins Foundation.
The pair went to school and played tennis with Charlie Watkins, from Higham near Colchester, who took his own life in March 2017. His suicide has prompted the launch of an online forum called 'Chat with Charlie', which was spearheaded by Charlie's twin brother Harry to raise awareness of mental illness.
The 23-year-olds cycled 7,595 miles, with just 11 of the 129 days spent off of the bikes and on foot due to illness. They also spent 86 nights in a tent and the rest going between hostels - cycling in the dark during 56 nights.
Roo, a recent graduate of Bristol University, said: "It was the best four months of my life.
"It was physically tough at times and it was very emotional, but we knew we had to keep going for the charities we were supporting."
Their 'Top2Toe' journey saw them travel through the Andes, the world's longest mountain range, completely unsupported and carrying up to 50kgs of kit in extreme altitudes up to 4,800 metres.
"The Charlie Watkins Foundation is so important to us both - it is amazing that something so good has come out of something so tragic," added Roo.
"At university the mental health support services are bursting at the seams and they can't cope with the number of people who need help and support."
The aim of the 'Chat with Charlie' forum which was launched by the foundation is to provide a safe space for students to speak openly about their own mental health. It is a one to one chatroom with trained volunteers and operates everyday from 6pm.
James and Roo's original target was £15,000 which they increased to £20,000 half-way through the trip, after being taken aback by the amount people were donating.
Their current total stands at £28,652 including gift aid, meaning all four charities will receive more than £7,000.
The money which will be donated to the Charlie Watkins Foundation will be used to help expand the support network at the University of Essex, with plans to role out the service at five other universities, including the University of York where Charlie studied criminology.
The pair will also be donating to War Child, Midlands Air Ambulance and SANDS (Stillbirth and Neonatal Death Society).