Trekking From Twickers with Rugby Against Cancer
If you talk to any rugby plyer about what they missed most during lockdown it won’t be the games, the highs of winning or the determination to right a loss. It certainly won’t be broncos and conditioning stints. The thing that the very best professionals and the most amateur players alike will point to is the camaraderie of the club house. It’s that close bond that led to Aaron Beesley founding Rugby Against Cancer.
When I caught up with Aaron on Friday lunchtime he was a week away from hitting the road as volunteers for the charity set off on the Trek From Twickers. The return leg of a journey they undertook in 2019. “We had planned to go from Portsmouth to Twickenham again this year, for the Premiership Final. Last year we walked up to the Army v Navy game and the support we got was fantastic. We raised maybe £1500 at Twickenham on top of the sponsorship we had for the walk.”
“Due to the game being moved and having no fans in the crowd we thought ‘why not do it in reverse?’ So we’ll arrive home to friends and family at Canoe Lake in Southsea”.
It’s a cause that most people can relate to so Aaron had assembled a team of 22 walkers plus support staff before Covid hit and due to changes of date and other reasons 10 of the original group were forced to drop out. Pleasingly though lots of new faces have offered their time to join the walk as the charity have gained momentum, most recently just before Aaron and I spoke Saracens Women back row Donna Rose has added her name to the list of those aiming to cover 70 miles in a little over 24 hours.
On top of people joining the walk the charity have been supported by rugby fans across the board, with raffle prizes such as a signed, game-worn Red Roses shirt and Premiership Rugby tickets being donated to aid the fundraising efforts.
This support is huge for the charity as other events they had planned for the year have had to cancelled or postponed. Hopefully their fun days and inter charity rugby games will be able to return next year and Aaron tells me plans are proceeding for something on Boxing Day… so keep your eyes peeled for news on that in the coming months.
Now I’ll confess at this point that I’ve perhaps paid closer attention to Rugby Against Cancer than I otherwise would because it started in my hometown. Portsmouth Rugby Club is within walking distance of my home (though criminally I never go to watch the local team… something I am intent on changing when community rugby returns). Pompey is thought of as a football town but rugby has a firm grip here too. “When I first moved to Portsmouth nine years ago, I googled rugby clubs in the area. Obviously Portsmouth came up but I was shocked that within half an hour drive of Southsea there were maybe 10 rugby clubs, which was nice. You can jump in a car on Saturday afternoon and there’s always a game on somewhere close by!”
It could be said that Portsmouth Rugby Club were the catalyst for the formation of the charity. “I found out that an old school friend I’d played rugby with had cancer and unfortunately he didn’t survive. I decided I wanted to do something, It was then I found out that Adam (Long – a fellow Portsmouth RFC player) and his situation. But it’s not just Portsmouth of course, there were players at Havant RFC, people involved with Peterfield… It’s quite scary when you think there are probably 4-5 people involved in local clubs that have had or are going through cancer. Keeping it local has been our foundation but we hope to grow to a more national charity!”
That local link has meant that Rugby Against Cancer have filled out local rugby pitches with charity games pre-Covid. Last years big fundraising game saw a Rugby Against Cancer team that included Fill Your Boots Rugby’s Sean Phelan (a tireless supporter of grassroots rugby) and Prem legend Tom Varndell turn out in the fetching black blue and pink shirts. Cai Griffiths and Joe Batley have both been vocal in their support for the initiative too.
I end my chat with Aaron asking him what his ambitions are for the charity in the future? He responds without missing a beat. “I want us to be a household name for rugby fans, to be there to support players and their families when they go through cancer wherever they are around the country.” Given what he has achieved already, I wouldn’t bet against Aaron taking this all the way.
You can find Rugby Against Cancer across social media and if you can spare a few pounds please do consider donating at this link: https://gf.me/u/yjp7ri