Gary going for a triple challenge

Gary Firth
Gary Firth

A Leigh fund-raiser is certainly going the extra mile for charity as he closes in on the finishing line in an extraordinary triple canal challenge.

Gary Firth has set himself the task of kayaking, cycling and running the entire length of the Leeds-Liverpool Canal.

The journey sees him travelling more than 130 miles on each of the three legs as he is also bringing the challenge to his hometown by adding on the Leigh branch of the waterway.

This week Gary is doing the final running leg, having spent the first week of the challenge paddling and then cycling from Liverpool back to Leeds in two days.

He is raising money for Parkinson’s UK in memory of his dad but admits the first leg in the boat was enjoyable but a lot tougher than he had expected.

Gary said: “Kayaking is tough going, a lot slower than I thought it would be. They have been long days.

“I started to feel stronger in the last couple of days in the boat and my paddling technique got more efficient.

“I’ve also met some amazing people and had some great wildlife encounters.

“One kingfisher I saw caught a fish, landed about six feet away from me, looked at me, ate the fish and flew off.

“I also got to go through a couple of the big tunnels which was an incredible experience, a real once-in-a-lifetime thing.”

Gary paddled from Yorkshire to Merseyside and is doing the same route on foot to complete the marathon fund-raising challenge.

He says he has been supported throughout by friends and family who packed The Waterside pub in Leigh to see the kayaking leg come through the borough.

He said: “The support has been overwhelming. I wish I hadn’t tacked the Leigh branch onto the kayaking but the reception at the Waterside was worth it.

“I’ve had canalside banners and people came out all the way to Burnley on their bikes to see me.”

Gary has been motivated to push himself to his physical limits for the extraordinary fund-raiser by the experiences of his family when his dad John was diagnosed with Parkinson’s at a relatively young age.

He hopes to raise around £2,000, having already got up to about £1,200, and says research and support for loved ones is both absolutely vital.

He also revealed the challenge, by coincidence, falls on an important milestone for both the history of the disease and the waterway.

Gary said: “I want to raise awareness of how the disease affects patient and the people around them. It’s utterly devastating.

“It’s not just the shaking hands or not being able to walk properly, it affects every single muscle.

“Everything that was my dad’s life was taken away from him by Parkinson’s. His business life, his social life, everything. It was horrific.

“The canal is celebrating its 200th anniversary and it’s also 200 years since Dr Parkinson wrote his paper.

“We still haven’t got a cure, we can’t even slow it down. All we can do is treat some of the symptoms.

“We need more money for research and more focus on it. My own personal experience seeing my dad is also that I felt I had no-one to talk to.”