Going the distance
Iestyn Llewellyn is celebrating his 40th birthday by running a marathon for every decade. Matthew Bowen meets the Berkshire Freemason putting his body on the line for charity
Turning 40 is a significant landmark in any person’s life. Some ignore it, others throw parties or buy bright yellow sports cars. Iestyn Llewellyn, however, has chosen to celebrate his 40th birthday by pushing his body to the limit for a good cause.
The Berkshire-based police officer and member of Goring Gap Lodge, No. 8359, which meets in Pangbourne, is aiming to complete four marathons in the four home nations during his 40th year, raising money for children’s bereavement charity Daisy’s Dream. He’s two down, having completed the Virgin London Marathon in April and the Great Welsh Marathon in May. Next up is the Loch Ness Marathon at the end of September, with the Dublin Marathon set firmly in his sights in October.
‘I thought about doing the six nations,’ says Iestyn, who admits to being no runner, ‘but I’m very glad I chose four now.’ He confesses to almost being put off marathons for life after the first one, but says it was the chance to raise money for good causes that has kept him motivated.
Iestyn’s wife, Alex, was diagnosed with bowel cancer in 2012. The treatment she received at the Berkshire Cancer Centre saved her life, and she now has the all-clear. It was when Iestyn held a fundraising dinner to thank the centre for all it had done for his family that his journey began.
When Alex was undergoing treatment, the couple’s children, Gwen and Morgan, were just three and nine years old, respectively. They found it hard to process what was happening to their mother and the whole family struggled. ‘Gwen wouldn’t go anywhere near Alex when she had her tubes in,’ Iestyn remembers, ‘and explaining cancer to a nine-year-old was incredibly tough.’
Iestyn had witnessed the devastation that cancer can cause before. His father’s second wife died from breast cancer, leaving Iestyn’s half-sister without her mother. She was supported through this difficult period by a bereavement counsellor, and Iestyn saw the positive impact this had on her ability to cope. It’s this experience that made him seek out Daisy’s Dream.
‘I wanted to find a local charity that offered children support like my sister had received,’ Iestyn recalls, ‘and was pleased to find one based in Berkshire.’ Daisy’s Dream works with families across the county, delivering individually tailored one-to-one and group support to children who are going through difficult times, whether that’s a bereavement from cancer or other illnesses, or from an accident, suicide or violent death.
Encouraged by the success of that first fundraising dinner, Iestyn held a second in 2014 – this time for Daisy’s Dream. While preparing to host this one, he discovered that the charity had a spare spot on its London Marathon team. ‘I’d never run anything over 10K before then, but I signed on and ended up doing London and Paris the following year,’ he says. The wheels were set in motion.
Daisy’s Dream is, quite understandably, delighted with Iestyn’s efforts. ‘His enthusiasm and passion for helping children through bereavement is contagious, and he’s such a nice, fun guy, too,’ says Claire Rhodes, who works for the charity as a fundraiser. ‘We don’t receive any government funding, so it’s thanks to all the local champions like Iestyn that Daisy’s Dream is here to provide free, professional therapeutic support and advice for those children facing the dreadful news of the terminal illness or death of a loved one.’
Had Iestyn known about Daisy’s Dream during Alex’s treatment period, he would most likely have asked for its support. ‘They’re a wonderful bunch of people who do amazing things for kids,’ he says. ‘They offered to speak with Morgan and Gwen once I’d told them our story, but I told them to focus on children with a more immediate need.’
At the halfway point in Iestyn’s marathon effort, he has raised nearly £1,400. He’s on track to reach his £2,500 target by the end of the fourth marathon, and won’t rest until he’s achieved his goal. Doggedly determined, Iestyn exclaims, ‘I’ll hold a dance in the village hall and go around begging until I have it all.’
While Iestyn first learned about Freemasonry though his father, who was a member, it was Iestyn’s father-in-law who asked him to join Goring Gap Lodge in 2001. It took eight years for the seed to germinate, but Iestyn’s decision to join in 2009 was made easier by already knowing so many people in the lodge. ‘It’s quite the family affair,’ he says. ‘My uncle-in-law and cousin-in-law are both members, as was my grandfather-in-law while he was alive.’
‘I grew up with a strong moral code… Freemasonry runs on these values’ Iestyn Llewellyn
Goring Gap Lodge has supported Iestyn’s fundraising efforts from the beginning. The Worshipful Master donated profits from a Ladies Night held last year to Daisy’s Dream, and many of the members have dug deep into their pockets to sponsor Iestyn on his numerous fundraising challenges – none has been convinced to sign up to a training run yet, though.
When asked whether he’d consider going for a run with Iestyn, Mark Prior, Acting Senior Grand Deacon, says, ‘Iestyn’s one of the more athletically gifted members of our lodge and it would take me about six months of training to get up to his lowest standards.’
Mark has nothing but respect for Iestyn’s efforts. ‘He’ll do anything he can to give something back, helping so many people in society restore something they’ve lost, or might never have had in the first place.’
Freemasonry has complemented the way that Iestyn chooses to live his life, enhancing rather than changing it. ‘I grew up with a strong moral code, knowing what was right and what was wrong,’ he says. ‘Freemasonry gives me something to hang my hat on, outside the police force, that runs on these values.’
Being a Freemason allows Iestyn to mix with similarly minded people and relax in an environment where he feels he belongs. In addition to his lodge’s charity work, it’s the brotherly love that keeps him committed, despite a hectic work/life schedule.
‘Being a mason allows me to meet people from all walks of life,’ he says. ‘Raising money gives us a common aim and it’s what I do it for; whether that’s raising funds for an individual wheelchair or contributing towards a bigger effort such as supporting victims of a natural disaster.’
Marathons and fundraising dinners are just the tip of the iceberg for Iestyn, who finds as many ways as he can to give back to his community. He’s a Scout leader, youth football coach and organiser of the Rotary Club of Pangbourne’s Christmas float, which hands out sweets to children in Goring every year. For the moment, however, the focus is on training. Despite a few injury scares, there’s no doubt he’ll overcome whatever obstacles stand in his way.
To support Iestyn’s marathon challenge, visit his fundraising page at goo.gl/82eSCU