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Widower, 72, overcomes heart bypass for mammoth fundraising effort

Molly Olly's Wishes, Coventry Memorial Park, anniversary

A 72-year-old great-grandad who underwent a quadruple heart bypass is pledging to walk ten miles a day throughout 2022 to raise funds for a Warwick children’s charity in its milestone anniversary year.

Tony Cunningham, from Coventry, is hoping to run up a huge total for Molly Olly’s Wishes by completing laps around the city’s Memorial Park, starting at 7am on New Year’s Day.

He’ll be spurred on by the precious memory of his late wife of 47 years who lost her four-month battle with lung cancer in February.

It is the latest – but greatest – fundraising challenge for Liverpool-born Tony, who also supported the Alzheimer’s Society six years ago and raised over £1,000 for Cancer Research with a month-long 334-mile walk in the summer.

Molly Olly's Wishes, Warwick, Memorial Park, Coventry, Tony Cunningham
Tony Cunningham and charity Founder Rachel Ollerenshaw. Photos by David Fawbert Photography.

Tony said: “Four years ago I took part in a team fundraising effort for Molly Olly’s Wishes at Burbidge & Son where I worked and it really resonated with me. It’s such a worthwhile cause and, as a charity, gives children and their families some pleasure in the darkest of times.”

Warwick-based Molly Olly’s Wishes was established following the death of Rachel and Tim Ollerenshaw’s eight-year-old daughter Molly from a rare kidney cancer and marks its tenth anniversary next year.

The charity supports children with terminal or life-limiting illnesses and their families. It grants wishes, helps with emotional support and it donates therapeutic toys and books to children directly and through hospitals across the UK.

No stranger to the pain of child loss, Tony admits it’s a cause that touches him deeply.

“My wife and I lost twins in my first marriage when I was just 21. One was stillborn and one died in my arms on the way to the hospital. Even though it was 50 years ago that torments me to this day. There’s not a day goes by when I don’t think about that.”

Rachel said: “Tony is truly amazing. To offer to walk 10 miles a day to mark our tenth birthday is no small feat for any age, but to do it at 72 years of age is quite something. Tony will be running 3,650 miles across 2022 in aid of Molly Olly’s and we are so thankful. The money Tony raises will help us to support children who’re going through very tough times with their health.”

To find out all the ways you can donate to Molly Olly’s Wishes, visit here

Molly Olly's Wishes, Warwick, Memorial Park, Coventry, Tony Cunningham

The walking challenge marks a long-awaited return to fitness for the grandad of 11 and great-grandad of six who underwent lifesaving heart surgery four years ago – and whilst still recovering from post-traumatic stress disorder following an accident.

Tony added: “My health has improved enormously since I started doing the walks so I wanted to keep pushing myself further and further each time. The kids think I’m completely bonkers and keep asking if I really ought to be doing this, but I’m determined to give it my best shot.”

And he is sure his beloved Jackie will be with him in spirit every step of the way.

“Some time ago I asked if I could put Jackie’s ashes in the rose garden at the Memorial Park but didn’t hear anything back from the council so I ended up putting them on my parents’ grave. But regularly when I walk past the rose garden on my training sessions I keep seeing someone in my peripheral vision and when I turn around there is no one there. So I know she is with me in spirit. She would probably call me a nutter. But I think she would be proud of me. She would have been there shouting me on,” added Tony.

Molly Olly's Wishes, Warwick, Memorial Park, Coventry, Tony Cunningham
Lord Mayor of Coventry Cllr Tony McNicholas will see Tony off on the first leg of his walk on New Year’s Day.

Tony’s fundraising has already attracted the support of local councillors, some of whom have pledged to join him at the start of his walk at The Memorial Park at 8am on New Year’s Day. He will officially be seen off by The Lord Mayor of Coventry Cllr John McNicholas.

Cllr McNicholas said: “Many of us have tackled a 10-mile walk for charity, but to do one every day for a year will be a real test of physical and mental stamina and it deserves our support.

“I am sure Tony will become a familiar figure as he clocks up the miles around the Memorial Park, so we can all cheer him on and let him know how grateful we are for the effort he’s making to help young children who are going through so much. Molly Olly’s Wishes is a tremendous charity.

“I wish Tony well, and I look forward to seeing him throughout the year.”

Among those offering to keep him company for parts of the walk are Earlsdon Councillors Dr Kindy Sandhu and Becky Gittins. Cllr Gittins said: “It is great to see Tony so passionate about raising money for Molly Olly’s Wishes. He is really challenging himself physically to raise as much money as he can for such a worthy cause. I hope people will give what they can to support him and improve the lives of seriously ill children in our area!”

Cllr Sandhu added: “This is a such great endeavour by Tony. His passion and desire to walk ten miles a day every day throughout 2022 to raise funds for Molly Olly’s Wishes is both humbling and inspiring. Our support for this important fundraising effort is the true legacy of Molly which lives through every step that Tony takes.”

To sponsor Tony visit here