Joe Williamson, who works as senior manager for the Sheffield United Community Foundation (SUCF), will attempt to walk and cycle the distance it takes to get to every single English Football League and Premier League stadium to raise funds towards a crucial cardiac screening day.
Williamson will donate the funds to Cardiac Risk in the Young (CRY), a charity that works to reduce the frequency of young sudden cardiac death. The money will help CRY put on this screening day in the Steel City. The day itself will allow for 100 young people aged between 16 and 35 to be checked for any potentially fatal undiagnosed cardiac conditions.
Raising more than awareness of a deadly problem
CRY states that 12 apparently healthy and fit young people die suddenly each week because of asymptomatic cardiac conditions that could have been detected at a screening day.
Further, the organisation claims that when screening became mandatory in Italy for young people engaging in sport, the incidence of sudden cardiac death was reduced by 89%.
Williamson, who has raised funds taking part in various other charity events, decided to undertake this mammoth challenge after his cousin died suddenly of an undiagnosed condition in 2017. His cousin was just 31 years of age at the time of his death. He finally committed to this demanding but worthwhile challenge a few weeks ago:
“About two or three weeks ago, I was looking at getting involved in something positive. I’ve done fundraising events in the past. I thought it was about time I set myself a new challenge! This is a very big one. The fundraising target we’ve set is huge, but it will fund, in partnership with Cardiac Risk in the Young, a private screening day for young people in Sheffield.”
Joe will rack up the Virtual 92 on the way
The challenge will see Williamson walk and cycle 24 miles each day from 1 June to 31 August. A football theme was an easy decision for the SUCF senior manager too, deciding on tackling the Virtual 92 along the way.
The Virtual 92 is an online scheme designed to get people out and about to improve their physical and mental health. People log their daily mileage on an interactive map to complete the 2,222-mile journey taken to get to all 92 football grounds. Lee Brown, the founder of the Virtual 92, came up with the idea when struggling with his own mental health after a rare cancer diagnosis. He has also fundraised for charities and more through outdoor exercise challenges.
He said: “The positive outlook I had on my cancer battle and doing the fundraising got me into walking. It showed the benefits of physical and mental health of exercise. That’s where I got the idea from.”
The challenge will be completed both virtually and in real life
Williamson’s decision to combine his love of football with his charity work came about as a result of him wanting to spotlight the great work other football club foundations do up and down the country to engage with, and ultimately improve, their local communities.
He won’t just be completing all the miles virtually and on his own. He will be undergoing specific challenges in person, hoping to have the support of the football community at particular stadiums as he edges closer to completing the 24 miles each and every day.
“For me, something football related is huge. It’s something that people can buy into. What I’d really like to do or what I will be doing as part of the challenge on the Virtual 92, it will be a combination of virtually completing it and some physical events. So, for example, the South Yorkshire clubs – I’ll definitely be doing that as a physical walk and encouraging people to join in and support me for that.”
“I’ll also be promoting all the other club’s foundations each day I get to a different stadium online. I’ll be promoting the good work the foundations do at those football clubs. We’re all working towards the same goals – to improve society and communities and to give people opportunities. So, as well as raising funds for that vital day, hopefully it’ll be raising awareness for the good work that every club does across the country.”
Hidden cardiac conditions can manifest at all levels of sport
The impact of undiagnosed cardiac conditions has also been felt at the highest level in football, with high-profile players collapsing mid-match following completely unexpected cardiac arrest. The Danish international Christian Eriksen is a recent example. Having received the ball from an innocuous throw-in during Denmark’s 2021 Euros match against Finland, the Manchester United midfielder suddenly fell to the floor. He would make a full recovery and return to playing, but it’s a worry knowing that even the fittest professional footballers at the peak of their career can suddenly collapse as a result of an undetected heart condition.
However, a positive outcome of the Eriksen incident was the Premier League donating over 2000 defibrillators to grassroots football clubs to help those clubs if a similar incident took place with a footballer or a spectator.
Work is still required to raise and maintain awareness
Eriksen’s incident at the Euros was heavily publicised and launched conversation around undiagnosed cardiac conditions into the mainstream. However, more needs to be done to detect hidden cardiac conditions that go unchecked up and down the UK, leading to daily deaths in young people.
Williamson praised the work done by CRY in putting on vital screening days and supporting families affected by sudden cardiac death, but wants his mammoth charity challenge to increase awareness in even more people and, ultimately, hopes that children in schools will very soon have access to regular screenings to combat these worrying numbers.
“CRY obviously does some amazing work. But I think the majority of the people who do the bulk of the fundraising, the large amounts of fundraising, are coming from a personal experience of it happening.
“For example, I wouldn’t have known any of those statistics had I not been involved in an experience that directly relates to me.
“There’s plenty of education and workshops around but there should be more campaigning towards cardiac screenings being done in schools in the same way they have jabs. In the future, could it be that every student in school from the age of 14 upwards gets the opportunity to have these screenings done for free?”
Money is already rolling in to support the challenge
Despite this charity challenge not taking place until June, Joe Williamson’s JustGiving page already stands at just over £2,000. The target to raise is £9,200 by the end of August, an aim Williamson understands is a big total but one he wants to achieve by the end of this gruelling challenge.
“A lot of the football community’s support will push that along. The first £1000 had been raised in less than a week. That’s not going to happen every single week. We need to start the big fundraising events – that’s why I’ll be doing things like physical events. Some of the students at Sheffield United Community Foundation are going to organise events and then join me as part of that and contribute to that fundraiser pot. Surpassing it would be great, but I’ll be happy just to get £9,200 bang on!”
If you’d like to support Joe’s huge charity challenge to fund a cardiac screening day put on by CRY, the JustGiving link is here – https://www.justgiving.com/