“Walking is my medicine”: former Agoraphobic mum steps out for charity, walking 350 miles in May.
Sally Giles , walking enthusiast and mother of three from Ashford, Kent, is planning to walk at least 350 miles with her friend Theresa Sinclaire to raise money for Mission Aviation Fellowship [MAF] – the world’s largest humanitarian airline. Roughly 90 of those miles will be covered between 9 –15 May, an important time for Sally who wants to mark Mental Health Awareness week by sharing her own story.
The pair will complete their combined one-month walking challenge as part of MAF’s Time in their Shoes initiative, a campaign which reflects the desperate need of isolated people who are helped by its international air service. Between them, Sally and Theresa hope to average 90 miles every week across the Kent Downs – and in the event of bad weather use an indoor treadmill to cover at least 350miles during May.
According to MAF, thousands of communities in isolated pockets of the world are forced to spend days walking across dangerous terrain to access basics such as food, water, and medicine – where an MAF flight can take less than an hour. The Time in their Shoes campaign will fund life-saving flights including medical evacuations, using sponsorship raised by volunteers like Sally who commit to a personal challenge this month. Sally and Theresa hoped to raise £1 per mile but have already raised £445 on their JustGiving page after roughly 127miles of combined walking since they joined the campaign on 2 May.
Sally, who now runs a local walking group and lives in Willesbrough, has faced various mental health challenges since her early 20s. But she believes walking, fitness and faith have helped keep her anxiety under control and she has enjoyed strength, stability, and positivity through the great outdoors for over 20 years.
Tragically losing her first baby at birth in 1987, a life-long mental health journey began for Sally, who has faced agoraphobia, depression and panic attacks. Blue lighted to Ashford’s William Harvey Hospital on 8 April when acute labour pains began 28-weeks into the pregnancy, baby Samantha was born feet-first and survived for just two minutes – a trauma Sally describes as “the worst experience of my life.”
In her lowest moments, Sally couldn’t go into her back garden to hang out her washing and struggled to walk down her street for weeks. She says:
My anxiety became really, really, bad. My life was a mess. Other mums avoided me because they didn’t know what to say. All people need in those circumstances is someone to hug them and just be there.
Meeting a new mother and churchgoer from her local area, Sally finally found the courage to leave her home by late 1987.
She recalls: “When Sophie plonked her baby in my arms, I began to heal. She was an incredible woman and was a rock to me. She took me along to her church, and it was a place I could feel peaceful and reflect.” Sadly, Sophie died suddenly of leukaemia in 1995, leaving behind three daughters.
Through her new community and Christian faith, Sally began short walks and gradually built up to one mile. She explains: “To start with, I’d panic and turn back. But somehow walking started to change my life. It’s the most incredible gift and I have developed a deep love for the great outdoors. Through walking, prayer, and my faith, I really feel like anxiety remains under my feet. I still have wobbles, but walking is a medicine to me – and I see our beautiful countryside as God’s pharmacy.”
Her eldest son Marc was born on 9 April 1989 – two years and one day after Samantha’s death. Sally says:
Marc was five weeks premature, and I thought I was going to lose him too. But praise God, he is healthy and now he works for MAF in Folkestone. He told me about Time in their Shoes, and I knew it was the perfect challenge to get involved with.
As well as organising Walking for Fitness – a group aimed at getting older people out walking – Sally is a member of Wilsborough Baptist Church and works for her husband Mark, who owns Alpha Conservatories and Windows. She has three children, Marc, Stephanie, and John, two step-children Kelly and Scott as well as three dogs Molly, Daisy and Lady. Lady was rescued from The Retreat Animal Rescue in 2020, where Sally and her husband are regular volunteers on the farm.
Summing up what it means to be fundraising during Mental Health Awareness week, Sally says:
Knowing that every step we take is helping others makes me enjoy this challenge even more. MAF is a wonderful organisation, it’s just amazing what their little planes do – like emergency medical evacuations, carrying aid and doctors.
During one of our recent walks, I heard about a medevac MAF did last year where newborn twins and their mother were saved in Papua New Guinea. It bought me to tears thinking about mums out there in isolated areas who are in labour and need urgent help like I did. If it wasn’t for MAF, many of them wouldn’t make it. This walk makes me think about Samantha too, and I want press forward in her memory and for other mothers out there who are in need of urgent medical help. Hopefully us walking in Kent means people in isolated parts of the world won’t have to.
If anyone is suffering with mental health challenges – what they might need is some Vitamin D and the great outdoors – it’s free, it’s healthy and it’s truly changed my life – and doing it for a great cause makes me love it even more.