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Monday, 12 November 2012

THE LONG PUSH 2012 Part 1: From idea to reality

This is part 1 of three blog posts, summarising The Long Push 2012 project from the first germ of an idea, to pushing the last few yards of the full 100 mile journey in September 2012, in the dark, back to my start/finish point here in my hometown of Southport, England. It's a long post and won't be fiished in one (or two) sessions, so please come back and carry on reading from where I leave you hanging!

Many of you have followed this blog from the beginning, some may have just read the odd post and others may be new to it altogether. So apologies to those who have read some of this before. I'll try to do what I can to add something new to make it more interesting for y'all, but for those new to the blog, I'll link back to the original posts, so that you read more detail if you wish. The story starts in late summer 2011 on the Coastal Road in Southport...

The saying goes "If you can see Blackpool Tower across the bay from Southport, it's going to rain. And if you can't see Blackpool Tower, it already is!" On this particular Saturday afternoon, in August I think, I was killing an hour or so, just cruising up and down the coastal road pavement in Southport on my old Sector 9 pintail longboard, behind the funfair, and with the second longest pier in the UK, stretching out into the Irish Sea. I was thinking about doing a long cycle ride again. I hadn't done one since I did the Coast 2 Coast cycle route from Whitehaven to Sunderland with three friends three years ago, but now I was only thinking about cycling up and down the coast to Blackpool. I wondered if I could make the journey not by bike, but...on my longboard? I figured it would be about 35 miles to Blackpool, so it should be something I could just do in a day quite comfortably, and it's a route I know well, on the road at least, because I go to a motorbike meet in St. Annes (last town before Blackpool) pretty regularly in Spring/summer.  Soon though, my hour or so was killed and I went back to my girlfriends apartment. Our usual Saturday routine. The idea was forgotten for the time being.

Blackpool tower across the bay, with Southport Pier in the foreground

A month later, in September 2011 I was out there on my longboard again, just killing another hour or so on another Saturday afternoon. While I was out, I took a photo. I sat down on the sea wall for a few minutes a bit further from where I'd taken the photo and had a look at it on my phone. By this time, our lives had started to change. Rachael's son had been diagnosed as having an Autism Spectrum Disorder (ASD). It was a late diagnosis, coming at age 10 and just before his last year at Primary School. We'd started taking him to different appoinments and tests prior to the diagnosis being made and getting in touch with different autism and educational support services, because we could see potential problems ahead over the transition to high school. That can be difficult for any kid, but for 'Steven' (name changed) we had additional concerns, although academically, he seemed fine to succeed in a mainstream school. The emphasis in his last year at primary school was all on 'growing up', 'independence' and 'responsibility'. All things that Steven doesn't like to think about. He's quite happy being his mum's little boy. His mum will always be there to love and help him, so why the need to be independent? Not being able to see ahead is one of the effects of his condition. His anxiety at having to deal with these thoughts was starting to show, and although he was always the model pupil in the structured environment of school, at home his behaviour was starting to change. Add to this that his mum 'Rachael' (name also changed) started to be ill with stress related illness (shingles), of which the diagnosis was part, and suddenly there was a lot more pressure on us as a 'family' unit. Among the support services we found was a small charity called 'Families Connected By Autism'. I think I emailed them first with a cry for help e mail, because we just simply didn't know where to turn for advice and sometimes it seemed like no one was listening. The period over summer 2011 was particularly stressful because, despite all the forms and meetings and phone calls, we hadn't known what support was going to be in place for Steven at his new mainstream high school in September. The school was closed, all the support services were closed, and up until the week before, we had no idea what support would be provided to help him, educationally, socially and emotionally with all the challenges of high school. It felt like we were throwing Peter Pan to the lions!

I sat there on the sea wall. Carol McKiernon, the head of Families Connected had been a great support to us by this time. When everyone else was unavailable, Carol came down to see us on a Sunday morning and spent a long time with us and Steven in the apartment, just listening to us, observing Steven and offering us suggestions and advice. She also came with us to our Common Assessment Framework (CAF) meetings, where all the different agencies come together to see what support will work best for the child and family in cases like ours. I decided that I wanted to help Carol's charity grow, to pay her back for her support. At the same time my eyes had well and truly been opened to the difficulties, stresses and strains that an autism diganosis can have on a family and if we were going through this then, so were others. I wanted to try and make more people understand the impact that an autism diagnosis can have on a child, a relationship, a family. So I married the longboarding to Blackpool idea up with the charity and...that was the birth of the idea for The Long Push. What I didn't know was that the photo I took that day, this photograph below, would become THE photograph to represent the project. But that's what happened.

September 2011 - Coastal Road, Southport

By December I had started to give the idea a lot more thought. I remember finding a blog about a long distance longboard journey called 300 Miles - No Car - No Problem. Sadly, that particular journey didn't work out as the page owner, Sam Bartlett, had planned but, it inspired me to start this blog and on December 4th 2011 I made my first blog post, So, I had this idea The ball was rolling...

Now, I've never written a blog before. Always like the idea, but couldn't see why anyone would want to read really? Still not sure if anyone actually does? I mean, the stats show that this blog has been viewed nearly 8000 times, but I'm still not really sure who is actually reading it, or if it's mainly viewed by 'bots' with an interest in autism and longboarding! Still, I made a start and followed the advice of a forum member from another forum for more er...'mature' skaters,  Someone there advised me to keep this blog about me and my mission and not share other people's videos (which I started out by doing) on here. I took that advice on board and started to focus this blog on my planning, training and the build up to my 100 mile longboarding for autism awareness journey. At the same time I started a Facebook page for The Long Push 2012  where I could share information about autism with the longboard/skateboard community and longboard/skateboard videos with those in the autism community. Sharing is, after all, what Facebook does best. What follows is a month by month breakdown from January 2012 to the day before I set off on day 1 of the 100 mile Long Push - Longboarding for Autism Awareness.

By the beginning of January I posted the 'first draft' of The Long Push route plan and on the 8th January, I spent far longer than I should have creating my first ever Youtube video; a 'teaser' for The Long Push:

The weather was very poor in winter 2011 in the UK, with lots of rain and some scarily high winds, and since starting the blog I hadn't really had a decent day to start any training along my proposed route, although I had driven it and started to get an idea of how I could break the journey down into different sections or sectors. I decided to go with 'sectors' because that would mean I would have a 'Sector 9' (name of one of the big longboard companies) and I thought that would be kinda cool. You may think otherwise of course! Ahem! On the afternoon of Saturday 14th January it was bitterly cold, but the sky was a beautiful blue colour and there wasn't a cloud in the sky. I drove up to what I thought would be the starting point for my ride, took a few photos and then pushed off on Day 1 Training: Saturday 14th January. Sector 1 - 6.2 miles 

Saturday 14th January, just before setting off on Day 1 of training.

Click the link above to read the full post about that first 6.2 mile push. I remember it seeming easier than I expected, but at the same time feeling a sense of achievement. I had broken my 'duck' and was looking forward to the next chance to get out for day 2 training.

From that point I wrote blog posts for all my training days, which I'll link as I continue this post. You can find  all the links on the right hand side of this page too. Each time I would talk about the type of board and set-up I used, where I rode to and from and any good points or potential pitfalls I came up against.

The weather held for a few days, and I was able to get out again very soon for Day 2 Training: Monday 16th January. Sector 2 - 4.0 miles and on 26th January The Long Push reached its first two landmarks, 100 Facebook 'likes' and, more importantly, the first £100 in sponsorship money was raised on The Long Push Just Giving page. Awesome! :0)

The weather, work and just general 'life stuff' meant that it felt like waiting for the planets to align before Day 3 Training on Tuesday 7th February. I was limited by time on this day, so this became my first days training where I developed a figure 8 training circuit around the seafront area in hometown Southport. From here on, if I wasn't able to do training along The Long Push route, I would either stick with this 4 mile circuit or 'tweak' it to give it some variation at times.

Our world was rocked on Sunday 12th Feb. As if she didn't have enough stress in her life, Rachael lost her mum when she died after a brief illness. Rachael and her mum were very close, speaking on the phone daily. It was incredibly hard for her, still is, and of course, there were two children for who this was their first experience of losing a family member. Add ASD and we were uncertain how Steven would react to the news. To be honest, even now it's not clear exactly how losing his grandma has affected Steven. He still seems uncomfortable at  his grandads house, and it might explain some of his behaviour when he's there, but overall, both children coped incredibly well with the funeral. So did Rachael. Despite all the pressure and loss, Rachael was amazing and stood tall as she planned, arranged and organised the funeral, when all she really wanted, and still does, is her mum back. She's always with you Rachael, watching over you and she's so proud, and so am I.

On the 19th Feb the conditions were good enough for me to get back out on board for Day 4 Training: Sectors 3 & 4 of The Long Push route plan

On 24th February I was able to announce the first two sponsors for The Long Push 2012, Big Woody's Skateshop and DC Shoes. 

This was a great boost for the project. Woody is a well known character on the UK skateboard scene and somebody I skated with in the mid 80's when we skated the vert ramps at Warrington Empire Skate Building and Ardwick Sports Centre in the north west, and other locations across the UK. I'm not sure that Woody actually remembers me from then but, from the moment he and his partner Andrea heard about The Long Push they were right behind the project. Woody helped me out to get the support of DC Shoes, which was awesome. Having a big name like DC supporting The Long Push was just a dream come true and pretty soon I was sporting DC skate shoes each time I went out training on my board.

Other product sponsors followed, Sporting Sails
Orangatang Wheels/J& R Sports 
which was amazing; Companies to help give credibility to The Long Push project and help spread the autism awareness message in the longboard scene. Not to mention, GREAT wheels! And Richard Birchwood at J&R also sent me some Paris trucks and Loaded bearings too. Really, just...awesome stuff, that I was hugely grateful for.


By March The Long Push had a logo. The final, black on yellow version (at the beginning of this post) one was tweaked by Woody, after the original, designed by a member of the forum, was thwarted by The North Face, who wern't happy!
I also started to build up my distances skated in training during March, getting over 12 miles on Day 6 of my training and up to 17.5 miles on Day 7.

The 20 mile barrier was tantalisingly close, but it would be another three weeks before I broke it.

Just before the end of March I was able to announce SPORTING SAILS as the latest sponsor of The Long push 2013.


World Autism Awareness Day is April 2nd each year. In 2012 I was working on the day itself, but went out the day before to get a photo in support 'Autism Speak's 'Light it up blue' campaign' for autism awareness.

16th April was the day I broke the 20 mile barrier , actually skating 25.6 miles by pushing from home to Tarleton and back.

Following this landmark though my training was disrupted for a few weeks. Life got in the way!


May was a month filled with frustration. I was struggling to find time to get out and train on the days that we had decent weather, so many of my training days were short rides around my Marine Lake training circuit. I was aslo aware that my fundraising total had 'frozen' around the £346 mark and I was conscious that I had to do something to keep it rising. I decided to start a monthly 'Vital Statistics' post, detailing the progress during the previous month. This way all visiters to the blog and Facebook page could see what increases were being made (such as the Facebook page hitting 300 'likes') and where more work was required. I think this was a good idea and one of the ideas I will carry forward into The Long Push 2013.

Carol McKiernon, the founder and head of the chosen charity, FAMILES CONNECTED BY AUTISM wrote a post for the blog herself during May, 'Life With Children On the Spectrum and before the end of thre month I had achieved a new personal best distance pushed so far, on Day 18 Training, Sunday 13th May. Marathon distance achieved and passed 30.4 miles. I was making progress.


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