Record-breaking round the world yachtswoman, Dame Ellen MacArthur, told stories from the sea and explained why she launched a charity to support young people in recovery from cancer as she was the special guest at a District 1060 ‘Evening With…’ Q&A event.
Almost 60 Rotarians from across Birmingham and the West Midlands joined Dame Ellen on Zoom and asked questions about her achievements and inspirations after District Governor, Tim Bushell, chose the Ellen MacArthur Cancer Trust to be 1060’s Charity of the Year.
The Ellen MacArthur Cancer Trust is a national charity that empowers young people aged 8-24 to embrace their future after cancer through sailing and outdoor adventure.
When treatment ends, the Trust’s work begins as for many young people, picking up where they left off before their diagnosis isn’t possible.
Ellen, who became the fastest person to sail round the world non-stop single-handed in 2005, explained how ahead of her first Vendée Globe race in 2000, she went sailing with young people with cancer from the French charity, A Chacun Son Cap.
She was so inspired by those young people, and others she met in French hospitals, she knew she had to set up something for young people with cancer in the UK.
That epiphany came when, in 60ft waves in the isolation of the Southern Ocean, she was trying to free a sail whilst clinging on halfway up her boat’s 80ft mast.
Ellen explained: “It was like hanging on to a telegraph pole during an earthquake. I spent a significant period of time slamming into the mast.
“And when that was happening, it wasn’t my family I thought about, it was those young people that came back into my mind. I had to get back for them because they were unbelievable and had an extraordinary passion for life.
“There was nothing like that in this country, which is why we set up the Cancer Trust. The Trust is a very, very special organisation that works with even more special young people, not just once but for as long as they need us.”
The Ellen MacArthur Cancer Trust is a national charity that empowers young people aged 8-24 to embrace their future after cancer through sailing and outdoor adventure.”
Five young people from Great Ormond Street Hospital joined the first Trust trip on the Isle of Wight in 2003.
Last year, the Trust supported 649 young people from across the UK, running trips from its two bases in Cowes and Largs in Scotland and a number of outdoor adventure centres in England.
Through the Trust, young people make friends with others who have had similar experiences, often for the first time, learn new skills, push their physical and mental boundaries and rediscover what they are capable of.
Most importantly, they stop feeling like the ‘only one’ and can start looking positively towards the future.
Ellen continued: “There’s an amazing atmosphere on the trips. At the start of their first trip, it’s often the first time a young person has been away from their parents since treatment. It’s a big step for them and their parents. They are often quiet and not sure what to expect.
The Trust is a very, very special organisation that works with even more special young people, not just once but for as long as they need us.”
“At the end of the trip you wouldn’t recognise them. We get parents say to us ‘Thank you for giving us our son or daughter back’ because it has a really profound effect. Thank you Rotary, we really appreciate your time and support for these young people.”
Ellen was joined by Trust CEO, Frank Fletcher, and Trustee and Medical Advisor, Dr Dave Hobin, Consultant Paediatric Oncologist at Birmingham’s Children’s Hospital. DG Tim was inspired to nominate the Trust for Rotary support after meeting Dr Hobin and hearing about the impact the Trust has on so many young people from his District.
Young people are going to need the Trust more than ever after COVID-19 as the pandemic has amplified feelings of isolation, loneliness, anxiety, anger and fear experienced in young people undergoing cancer treatment and their families. For more information visit www.ellenmacarthurcancertrust.org