The ride of her life

  • Annabel England, Macmillan Cancer Support
  • York Racecourse, Macmillan Cancer Support

After a harrowing year spent battling cancer, Cotswold resident and mother of two Annabel England will be competing in Macmillan’s Ride of their Lives 2018 (at the Macmillan Charity Raceday, York Racecourse, Saturday 16 June).

With the support of her partner Simon and her sons Leo and Elliot - and not to mention the equestrian talents of trainers Kim Bailey and Fergal O’Brien - Annabel’s been making strides towards her ambitious goal. With the raceday imminent, Annabel shares her story, and urges readers to donate to this excellent cause.

2017 was a trying year for you. Could you tell us about your experiences and how they have shaped your activities and goals moving forwards?

Having received the shocking news last summer that I had cervical cancer - and only a few weeks after my father and also a close friend had told me they had cancer - I was overwhelmed with a huge array of emotions. I had never experienced such a sense of fear, or such a reflection of my mortality.

Until I had further scans and assessments I would not know if the cancer had spread and therefore which treatment I would need. I experienced some very dark moments during that time, with my mind playing terrible tricks on me, followed by such an intense sense of relief when the news finally came through that the cancer was contained and operable. I have received so much love and support from my family and friends for which I am eternally grateful.  Simon has been a constant source of strength for me, Leo and Elliot. I don’t know what I would do without him.

I was not to know if chemotherapy or radiotherapy would be needed until after the operation, as it was possible the cancer could have spread into my lymph glands which, as a precaution, would all have to be removed then analysed. I literally prayed for a positive outcome. My prayers were answered and after a four and half hour operation in September and - after a bit more waiting for results - I was given the all clear. I have been so lucky and experience feelings of guilt for being OK, whilst others, including my dad, still battle on. This has given me the motivation to take on my impending challenge and be able to give something back. Raising money for Macmillan Cancer Support seemed to be the natural choice.

Tell us about the Ride of their Lives charity race event at York Racecourse. What will it entail?

I entered the Best Western & Macmillan Ride of Their Lives charity race in November, just two months after my operation. It is Macmillan’s largest annual fundraiser and held at York Racecourse. I was chosen along with eleven other potential jockeys and will be racing over a distance of one mile and one furlong on racehorses who are currently in training. As jockeys, we have had to train diligently over the last five months, riding out most mornings whatever the weather and becoming fit enough to take part in the amateur jockey’s fitness test and riding assessment at The Northern Racing College.

What personal preparations have you been undertaking?

My personal preparations for the race have been quite testing, as after major surgery I have felt quite vulnerable physically. I suffered some nerve damage to my left leg and initially used a stick to help me walk. I continue to regain strength in the leg, but my mobility has not been affected. I obviously needed to heal internally and initially had to be cautious about training. I now go to the gym twice a week to see local fitness trainer David Gainford, who has helped me with my rehabilitation, strengthening and overall fitness. I also see jockey coach Robert Bellamy once a week, where he puts me through my paces on the equisizer - sometimes with Elliot, who wants to be a jockey one day.

What sort of help and training have you received from equestrian stars such as trainer Kim Bailey?

I’ve been very lucky to be able to ride out for Kim Bailey and Fergal O’Brien. Both have been so generous with their time and help in getting me back in the saddle. Belinda Keighley, who won the race last year, has lent me all her training kit and I have had a spin up their gallop too. My partner Simon, who is clerk of the course at Cheltenham, gave me the most amazing opportunity of riding round the racecourse and I was delighted to be accompanied by Paddy Brennan. Between Kim and Fergal, I hope to be able to find a suitable horse for the race.

As part of your fundraising activities, you organised a special car boot sale and dog show. What were the highlights of the day?

In April, Simon and I held a car boot sale and dog show at our home. It was a wonderful day and I received so much support from local businesses and the community in general. I cannot thank everyone enough and was overwhelmed by such generosity and kindness. I got such a buzz from watching everyone having a good time and I would definitely consider doing it again. We raised over £5,000 on the day, which exceeded all my expectations. 

What have you learned about fundraising along the way?

I had no idea how hard, and time-consuming, fundraising can be, but also very rewarding. I would say I have a very different outlook on fundraising now and a newfound respect for those who do lots of it.

I have now exceeded my initial target of £10,000 and I have set myself a new one of £15,000. Macmillan Cancer Support are in need of vital funds, so it is really important that people keep donating. 

Annabel is taking part in charity race the ‘Ride of their Lives’ to raise vital money for Macmillan Cancer Support. Her race is sponsored by Harrison James and Hardie.

You too can show your support by donating at www.justgiving.com/belsengland

York Racecourse images courtesy of Macmillan Cancer Support.