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Local man sidney scales the Sydney harbour bridge in lockdown – virtually of course!

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Like more than 80,000 people across Northern Ireland, Sidney and Esther McStay from Garvagh have been shielding since the beginning of lockdown in March. Both in their seventies, and both recovering from a cancer diagnosis and treatment, they were keen to keep physically and mentally active while staying at home. That’s how Sidney has come to virtually scale the dizzying heights of the Harbour Bridge, and his wife of 50 years Esther has done likewise on a virtual visit to the Leaning Tower of Pisa!

How have they achieved such fantastic feats? That’s where Macmillan’s Move More initiative plays a significant part. The Move More programme is available in every local Council area and helps people living with cancer to get active and stay active.

Macmillan Move More Coordinator, Catherine Bell-Allen from Causeway Coast & Glens Borough Council has been encouraging her participants to virtually climb their way their way around global landmarks and stay active during the Covid-19 crisis.

Catherine says, “I’m usually based in our local leisure facilities or out meeting participants but while face-to-face classes and appointments are not possible, we’ve been working on interesting ways to keep participants motivated and active at home.”

“That’s what inspired my colleague Claire and I to come up with our virtual ‘round the world’ challenge idea. Even though we can’t bring everyone people together, we wanted to find a way to motivate and connect our groups virtually and give them all a positive goal to focus on.”

“We identified how many steps it would take to climb certain landmarks, and have been encouraging people to virtually climb as many as they can by building up their steps every day at a level appropriate to their fitness using a front door-step, bottom stair or kerb. We may not be able to physically travel the world at the moment, but there’s no limit on our imagination!”

Sidney has reached the top of more than 5 landmarks, including the Eiffel Tower and Harbour Bridge, and is currently working his way to the top of Big Ben! He says that the challenge is literally keeping them on their toes, “I miss catching up in person, as much for the social benefits as well as the important exercise, but Catherine and her colleagues are keeping us busy. This challenge is a lot of fun – it’s great to have a target to concentrate on. Many of us stay in touch through WhatsApp groups so we’re only ever a message away from some encouragement and inspiration.”

Esther agrees – she and Sidney found out about the local Move More programme through her physio and says that it has been of great benefit to her. “I was reluctant to get involved in Move More to begin with, and when I first joined I couldn’t so much as do 3 step-ups. That’s all changed! Catherine is fantastic and always so encouraging. I’ve now reached the top of Christ the Redeemer as well as the Leaning Tower, and I’m also following Catherine’s YouTube circuit classes all at a pace that’s right for me.”

Esther also points out the mental well-being that she gets from her lockdown challenge and exercise too. “It’s important to have a focus and targets to aim for, especially during times like these.”

Catherine says that the act of visualisation was an important part of the challenge. “People aren’t getting away on city breaks or extended holidays at the minute so the positive impact of imagining the Italian sunshine on your face, or looking down over the Parisian cityscape has been a real distraction and escape for people too!” Catherine says that one member of the group, after doing her Harbour Bridge climb sent their WhatsApp group photos from an actual trip to Australia and it was a real talking point and motivation for everyone to share similar stories. “It shows that we can still be well connected and in touch”, says Catherine.

Esther and Sidney have been researching their landmarks online, something that has brought home not just the scale of their challenge but the joy of travel and finding out about new locations, if only virtual for now. Esther has also been cooking dishes from each of the countries that she and Sidney have been virtually visiting including lasagne from Italy and kofta curry from India!

“The feedback has been a privilege to hear”, adds Catherine. “People have said that the challenge has made exercise more enjoyable by imagining all of the exotic places, and that it has kept them motivated and moving when face-to-face classes had to stop. One member of the group is actually on their third round – such an inspiration!”

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