'The doctors are astonished'

53-year-old completer Sally Qajar’s story exemplifies the ‘absolutely astonishing’ power of walking little and often…


Where are you from?

Born and brought up in the beautiful countryside of Wales, moved to Dorset and lived there for around 18 years, now I live in Hampshire, near Winchester. Walking was just a part of life for me in my youth as living in the middle of nowhere, walking was the only way to get to anywhere most of the time! But somewhere along the line, walking became less and less. Although I would never had said I was walker back then, it was a natural thing to do at the time and I didn’t think anything of it!

What was your situation, physically and mentally, 18 months ago?

18 months ago I was overweight, unfit, depressed – not in a good place. I had fractured my spine on two separate occasions previously and both had left me with spinal pain and mobility issues. Then one day my sister asked me if I wanted to go with her and her family to Scotland for a week. I decided at the last minute that I would, and though we walked every day I was struggling beyond two miles. That was plenty enough!

I was so disgusted with how unfit I’d let myself become, I vowed that when I got back home I would walk every week.

How did you get involved in this challenge?

I was walking once a week, most weeks, but I was suffering with spinal issues and at the end of 2015 I was diagnosed with osteoporosis, arthritis and degenerative bone disease which was in rapid decline. I was told there was nothing that could be done as it was too widespread, that I also had fibromyalgia and most worrying of all, cervical spinal stenosis – which can lead to extreme weakness and even paralysis. And indeed I had been suffering from painful pins and needles, loss of sensation and some loss of motor control, especially in my hands and arms, but also in my legs.

I didn’t know what to do. I was told I couldn’t jog or run or do anything that could worsen the joints, but my own research suggested the only thing I could do for myself was to walk more to try and build bone density.

But I was struggling with my mobility, especially in the mornings – my husband said he wondered how I ever managed to walk anywhere at all – and by Christmas I was in so much discomfort I accepted a referral to the pain clinic. I’d refused before – drugs felt like the start of a downward spiral – but the waiting list was eight months and by that time I was warned I could be in serious difficulties.

Meanwhile, I was really interested in finding out a bit more about this walking business so I bought a subscription, and that’s when I saw the article on the 1000 miles challenge. I decided to go for it and signed up in the hope it would motivate me to walk more than the once a week. I never for one minute thought I would actually manage to complete it!  

How different are things now?

I cannot find the words to really express how my life has changed – really changed – as a result, I truly can’t. I’m now out doing ‘boots on’ or ‘deliberate going for a walk’-type of walking most days and everyone around me has remarked on what a massive difference they see in me. Lifted mood and drastically reduced depression; I’ve lost two stone and totally changed body shape for the better; increased muscle strength and improved motor control and balance; dramatically reduced the amount of pain relief to almost nothing. The hospital consultants are astonished and delighted and have said they really wish everyone would do what I have done and just keep walking!

How do you feel?

I’m a different person. I no longer feel lonely, or unfit, or depressed – but revitalised, fit, energetic, and enthusiastic about life, healthy, happy and full of life. I’ve been given my life back. I’ve made new friends and developed some very special friendships through walking and this challenge. I wake up and I can’t wait to get up! I have learned to love life again. I want everyone to feel as good as I now feel!

Can you remember any 'Hallelujah' moments?

When I got on the weighing scales and took out the measuring tape, just out of curiosity, as my clothes were all becoming too big! I’d tried and tried to lose weight to no avail before so didn’t even think about it. Losing weight and inches has been a wonderful surprise!

My flabbergasted GP’s face. Climbing all four peaks of the Brecon Beacons in one day – my first ‘proper’ mountain ascent. Completing my first National Trail (the South Downs Way) and meeting other 1000-milers along the way.

How has this challenge affected your optimism for the future?

It has totally changed my outlook. I no longer fear the future and what it may have brought, because I have changed it, by walking! And It’s spreading to my whole family! First to catch the bug was my brother. Following a liver transplant, just in the nick of time, he’s been very ill, unable to even walk from his chair to the bathroom. After initially bullying him a little he’s now walking a lot more and is doing so much better. My 88-year-old mum has bought herself a step counter and now manages 3000 – 4000 steps daily. She’s even discarded her walking aid and her balance has improved tremendously.

My husband – who I thought would never do any walking – is now regularly walking every evening to improve his heart health and diabetes. Walking and doing this challenge has changed not only my life, but the lives of my entire family!