Cancer survivor and seasoned charity fundraiser Michelle Thompson recently returned from a 450-mile cycling challenge in Africa and is now preparing for the presentation of the British Empire Medal she was awarded in the New Year Honours. Andy Walker met her.
INSPIRATIONAL is the first word that comes to mind when meeting 44-year-old Michelle Thompson, who has raised an estimated £125,000 for her charity.
The mother-of-two, from Darlington, was diagnosed with thyroid cancer ten years ago this summer and after successful treatment she set about volunteering and fundraising for Macmillan Cancer Support, having earlier lost her younger sister, Jeanette, to bone cancer.
Earlier this month, Michelle embarked on her latest challenge, flying to Nairobi, in Kenya, with friend Melanie Lancaster, to take part in the charity’s 30-strong Escape to Africa event.
The pair hope their efforts during the challenge, which saw participants ride 450-miles from Nairobi to the Ngorogoro crater, in Tanzania, will see them jointly break the £10,000 fundraising mark.
Back home in Darlington’s West Park, Michelle reflects on her achievements, which will culminate next month in her being presented with her medal in a Town Hall ceremony.
She said: “I am just an ordinary person, I don’t do road races or anything like that. After my last cycling challenge in Vietnam, in 2007, which was a huge shock to the system, I needed to do another one to decide whether I really to hate cycling or if I could begin to like it.”
The African ride covered rough terrain, in 40 degree heat, with participants camping by the roadside at night and having to fend off some of the less friendly locals by day.
Michelle said: “We didn’t feel unsafe at any point, but we always had to be aware of how dangerous it can be.
“For the most part everyone was lovely, but there was one young lad who asked where I was from and when I said ‘England’, he spat at me.
“So there was a bit of hostility from people who saw a bunch of strangers cycling through their town and didn’t want us there.
“But it was an amazing trip, we would be cycling along and suddenly see a herd of giraffes – as normal as seeing a herd of cows in this country.”
Michelle describes the poignant climax of the challenge, climbing towards the summit of the crater in Tanzania.
She said: “We got to the top of the hill and I burst into tears, it was very, very emotional as I remembered my sister and everything I went through with cancer.
“All of that came in one big bang for the group and it was very emotional for everybody.”
Even though the dust has barely settled on her latest charity challenge, Michelle is already thinking about the next – a possible challenge in the Himalayas in or around 2016 is already on her radar.
She said: “I like to do a big, overseas challenge every three years so people do not get sick of me asking for donations all the time!
“It lets me take time out, as they are a big thing to sign up to.”
For now, Michelle is content to slot back in to her volunteering commitments for Macmillan, which often see her put in more than 40 hours a week and travel around the UK giving talks about her experiences to cancer sufferers and prospective charity supporters.
She is also looking forward to her medal presentation, by outgoing Lord Lieutenant of County Durham, on March 1, something she describes as “a huge honour”.
Donations can still be made to Macmillan in the name of Michelle and Melanie’s African adventure. Visit justgiving.com/teams/melandshell