73-year-old great grandad raises thousands after exceeding target for year-round charity walking challenge

A 73-year-old great-grandad from Coventry who underwent a quadruple heart bypass has smashed his personal target to walk ten miles a day throughout 2022 for a children’s charity after completing his last circuit of the city’s Memorial Park on Saturday (New Year’s Eve.)

Coventry Lord Mayor Cllr Kevin Maton joins Tony on his walk along with the Lady Mayoress, Cllr Anthony Tucker, Cllr Becky Gittins and charity founder Rachel Ollerenshaw, earlier in the year

Tony Cunningham has now raised more than £9,000 for Warwick-based Molly Ollys by clocking up over 5,050 miles (around 10 million steps) on his early morning laps around the park!

This means the intrepid fundraiser has now travelled almost the equivalent distance of Coventry to Phoenix in Arizona – even overcoming health issues and the most extremes of weather conditions along the way.

Despite this Tony missed only seven 6am starts on the advice of doctors, insisting the charity cause as well as the support he received, made him determined to see the challenge through.

Tony Cunningham, Molly Ollys
Tony turned out for his walk in all conditions
Molly Ollys, Tony Cunningham
Even out on Christmas Day

He said: “Several things keep me motivated. Most of all I don’t want to let down the children and their families who are helped by Molly Ollys.

He said: “Getting up at 5am and walking between 10 -and 18 miles a day every day is a challenge in itself, but the weather can make it even more so. Walking in arctic temperatures certainly takes its toll, but you can always add extra layers of clothing to keep you warm. By far the worst weather conditions I’ve encountered were the four named storms we had this year when I was soaked to the skin because once you’re drenched that’s the way you stay until you can get a hot bath and some dry clothes on.

“On the two days of extreme hot temperatures in the summer I was advised not to walk due to be classed as extremely vulnerable.

He added: “I missed seven days in the park, although I still walked some distance, on one occasion I was in hospital with suspected blood clots, and on another occasion I had a chest infection which I’m prone to. I said at the outset that I didn’t know if I could complete this challenge, I must confess to a sense of achievement.”

Tony Cunningham, Molly Ollys

It’s the daily support that Tony will most reflect on when he completes his final lap on New Year’s Eve.

He has also been spurred on every day by the precious memory of his late wife Jackie of 47 years, who died of cancer last year.

“I feel like she has been with me in spirit throughout. I think it has surprised a lot of people that I’ve kept it up.”

As well as a sense of pride, Tony has forged new friendships and will look back on his year as one of the best adventures of his life. His most poignant memories include meeting three mums in the park whose children have had cause to be helped by the charity and bumping into two nurses at UHCW (University Hospitals Coventry and Warwickshire) who helped him through his own operation five years ago. Angie Cummings, who worked in ICU and Heidi Seidl, who was in the operating theatre, both plan to be part of the welcoming group on Tony’s final day in the park on Saturday.

Receiving a drawing from artist Jenny Suffield.

Also hoping to be there is Coventry artist Jenny Suffield MA who was so inspired by Tony, a few weeks ago she created a special drawing in his honour.

The great grandad of six admits to enjoying his new-found local celebrity status, elevated by year-long regional and national media coverage.

Warwick-based Molly Ollys was established following the death of Rachel and Tim Ollerenshaw’s eight-year-old daughter Molly from a rare kidney cancer and marked its tenth anniversary this year.

Tony Cunningham, Molly Ollys
Tony won lots of supporters and friends along the way

The charity supports children with life-threatening illnesses and their families. It helps with emotional support and donates wishes, therapeutic toys and books to children directly and through hospitals across the UK.

Rachel said: “What an truly amazing man Tony is! To think that he has racked up more than 5,000 miles across 2022 is really hard to get my head around. Tony is a man of his word and once he committed to doing this huge challenge, there was no way he was going to miss a day – unless he was ill!

“There have been times when we have been concerned about Tony– for example, during the storms when he was totally drenched; when it has been bitterly cold and icy; when he was having to get out walking at 5am to try to avoid the heat wave. For most people, the very notion of getting up every single day and walking mostly the same route of 14/15 miles would be overwhelming and overbearing, but Tony is an extraordinary person who is determined to make a difference.

Tony Cunningham, Molly Ollys
Meeting some scooter enthusiasts in the park

“He has also created quite a buzz in the Memorial Park and seems to have awakened the community as people chat to him and each other as it has created quite a talking point.

“Tony has raised more than £8k for Molly Ollys which will make such a difference to the families that we support.”

 There is still time to sponsor Tony at: https://www.justgiving.com/fundraising/anthony-cunningham5

To find out all the ways you can donate to Molly Olly’s Wishes, visit https://www.mollyolly.co.uk/learn-about-donating/

Tony Cunningham, Molly Ollys
Getting to know other fundraisers on his walk


 Molly Ollys was set up following the experiences of Molly over the 5 years she received treatment for kidney cancer at Birmingham Children’s Hospital.

 Between 2017 and 2020, the charity funded Birmingham’s first paediatric palliative consultant as there was no such consultant for the region. That position has now become permanent and is currently funded through the NHS.

The charity works alongside the NHS to support projects within the hospitals and the community. One key project was the creation and refurbishment of Magnolia House at Birmingham Children’s Hospital. This is a safe and non-clinical space where medical teams and families can have important discussions.

The charity is well-known for its therapeutic toy lion, Olly The Brave, which has its own Hickman line and a detachable mane. The soft toy helps to explain and normalise the effects of chemotherapy. These form part of an Olly The Brave pack which includes a six-part book series. For more info, please visit www.mollyolly.co.uk

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