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I’m doing the three-peaks challenge in memory of my dad

Rachel’s dad passed away unexpectedly following complications from COPD. 

Some of my best memories of my dad were from our time fell walking in the Lakes. We both loved being outdoors, spending hours trekking across fells. I knew we’d probably end up lost, but it was an adventure and I loved just spending time with him.

Dad started to struggle to keep up

When I was in my early 20s, I realised my dad was struggling and couldn’t walk as he used to. He just couldn’t catch his breath. He was a postman who covered miles every day, but even that became difficult and he gradually took longer doing his rounds. Eventually, he was diagnosed with chronic obstructive pulmonary disease (COPD). He was only in his mid-50s, and from then on was on a cocktail of medication and inhalers daily.

He smoked for his entire adult life. I’d asked him countless times to stop, but he was stubborn and had to give up on his own terms. His diagnosis of COPD gave him the nudge he needed and he did quit for a couple of years. But then the stress of work got too much, and he ended up smoking again.

Things went from bad to worse

Meanwhile his COPD was getting progressively worse. Going to the shop a couple of streets away seemed almost impossible on his bad days. This for a man who once thought nothing of a 10-mile walk was heart-breaking. Keeping track of how he was doing was hard, especially as I don’t think he told me how unwell he really was.

During a particularly cold winter and 6 months before my wedding, I found out he was in hospital. He’d been in intensive care for a couple of days after collapsing in his local shop. He had a serious chest infection. I was so upset and angry when I found out – why hadn’t he told me? He said he didn’t want to worry me. 

My maternal grandma was also living with COPD and had just been diagnosed with vascular dementia. I’d been made her legal power of attorney, so I think my dad didn’t want to give me anything else to worry about. I told him that I wanted to know and to always ask for help when he needed it.

Walking down the aisle with my dad by my side

Rachel and her dad on her wedding day

Fast forward 6 months and we had the most incredible wedding day. I could not have been happier walking down the aisle with my dad. Looking back on the pictures, it’s clear he had an amazing day too. It wasn’t an easy trip for him – navigating the airport there and back was difficult due to his breathlessness. But he said he wouldn’t have missed our wedding for the world.

In December 2017, my husband Sé and I went home before we went on honeymoon. We took my dad away for a few days as a thank you for all his support, and because we hadn’t been away together for a while. Dad decided he wanted to go to Wensleydale rather than the Lakes, mainly because he couldn’t walk very far. I didn’t realise quite how unwell he was until I watched him try and walk up the stairs – one flight of stairs was a real struggle for him. I was so worried and offered to take him to the doctors when we got back, but he didn’t want to go. I made him promise he would make an appointment with his doctor when we left for our honeymoon. While we were away, I excitedly texted dad saying I’d show him our pictures when we got home. 

In that moment, the world stopped spinning

On 11 January 2018 we landed back in London. We had holiday blues but were full of plans for the year ahead. Driving back from the airport, Sé got a call. He told me it was a marketing call, but I wasn’t convinced. He said, “let’s pull over”. It had been the police on the phone. Sé told me my dad had died. The world stopped spinning in that moment.

My dad was 60 – he was too young to die. I knew he had a chronic illness, but there was a part of me that believed my dad would be around for years to come. It didn’t help that my grandma has had it for years, and although it impacts her daily, she hasn’t deteriorated at anywhere near the rate my dad did. And he was 25 years younger.

A post-mortem showed that dad died from numerous complications relating to his COPD. This was despite his GP records saying he seemed to be in good health at his last appointment, just weeks before he died.

The next few weeks and months went by in a numb blur, adjusting to life without the man who had made me laugh every time I saw him. I took comfort in the fact he was by my side on my wedding day.

I don’t want to waste a minute, so I’m taking on this challenge in memory of my dad

I decided I wanted to do something in his memory. I turn 30 this year, half the age my dad was when he died. If losing someone so close to me has taught me anything it’s not to waste a minute and to celebrate what we have. I decided to take on the three-peaks challenge in 24 hours this August, finishing on what would’ve been my dad’s 62nd birthday. I couldn’t think of anything more fitting, especially as my dad has done at least 2 of the 3 peaks himself.

We’re raising money for the British Lung Foundation to help fund research into lung disease and boost awareness for lung health. We’re looking forward to putting our lungs to good use for those who can’t, so that other people don’t lose their parents at such a young age.

Rachel's dad on her wedding day


To find out more about Rachel’s story, take a look at her Virgin Money Giving page.

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9 June 2019