I am delighted to report that I completed my first full Olympic-level Triathlon in and around Minsk on behalf of Friends of the Belarusian Children's Hospice.
I started in the Palace of Water Sports swimming pool where no less than 3 television companies had cameras by the pool - there were interviews both before and after the swim. The swim was 1.5km. A film of the whole trip is being made and I will arrange to have it uploaded onto the Friends of BCH in time. By the by, while Minsk and Belarus are not widely known for their brilliance in swimming, many people do bring their children to Minsk to be trained by extremely capable and ferocious swimming instructors who have been responsible for many Olympic and other World Games medals.
The second leg was the run of 10km and I was joined by two volunteers – one of whom is a Belarusian businessman and the other is a national champion bicyclist, so ridiculously and threateningly fit. They set a pace faster than I wanted but at least I got it done. We ran through streets, underpasses, into the forest, down by a lake, along the motorway, back to the outskirts, through an airplane museum gardens and finally ended up at a restaurant which was closed – hugely frustrating as I was, by that point, in dire need of sustenance.
The third leg was the 40 km bike ride and here I was joined by the British Ambassador to Belarus, Bruce Bucknell. I rode with Bruce, the national cyclist and a member of the local Minsk Cycle Club, the latter being the sort of person you want to be in a forest with when feeling threatened - he was amazingly resourceful. Our party then visited the National War Memorial, at the top of a huge hill which we climbed, to honour the irregulars who fought to defeat the Nazis. The Ambassador and I laid flowers, an even number as it was an act of grieving. As we did this, the scene was circled with Soviet tanks and the paraphernalia and the barbarity of war. At the start of the bike ride, we were again attended by other TV channels - the Ambassador was interviewed and then me, again, on the subject of this ‘strange habit’ of raising money and support for a charity on a triathlon. Weird.
The triathlon finished with a red ribbon outside the Hospice itself - I rode through the red ribbon to cheers, shouts ,clapping, hugging and kissing. I then received a medal and a cup.
The next day at 5.20am, I was picked up in a taxi and taken to the studios of the major Belarusian TV channel where I was ‘on the couch ' for the Morning Minsk programme - with the chairwoman of Friends of BCH Daryl Ann Hardman. We were both interviewed about the experience.
Most importantly, I would like to thank all my sponsors for the donation you made and for being involved in this. I can assure you that the money you gave and entrusted will get to where it is most effective and gives these children such a wonderful time and first class palliative care and gives their anguished parents respite and a certain dignity.
Thank you very, very much.
Best wishes, Anton
PS I do not think anything prepared me for yesterday, the day after the triathlon when I visited the Belarusian Children’s Hospice’s holiday hideaway in Zabrodie, two hours outside the city. There is little that I have ever seen in my life to match the joy and gratitude that I saw with these children as they celebrate, if that’s the word, the last months - at best 24 months - of their lives. They adore being in the country and being looked after by the Hospice staff and volunteers, five of whom are from Wales. There are only a few acres but these children whoop with joy and pleasure and laughter and our arrival appeared to them to be another joyous event. In a world of cynicism, barbarity and pain, certainly in Ukraine, Russia , Syria , Iraq etc etc, it was extraordinary to see these children and the degree of gratitude and joy that they had and shared with their minders who look after them so lovingly.
Each one of these children came to me and shook my hand - they are various sizes and shapes, aged 10 to 18 years and in all varying degrees of decline or illness. It is just unbelievable to be able to say that I did not see a long face. The day we arrived was the day that the holiday ended for summer so at noon they were in various cars of their parents and the main Hospice bus to go back to Minsk. There were screaming tears and sobbing and a lot of laughter at the same time and I don’t think anyone could fail to learn what active gratitude is about without seeing some of this.
I have now also persuaded the Welsh volunteers to do a 10km run and I will sponsor each one of them as a kick-off. But, it is these children who are enjoying their very short lives who are extraordinary and what the people of the Hospice and the volunteers do is also so massively kind and loving.