Here's how joining walking group Doncaster Ramblers brought Betty Donald back to life,
“Walking means everything to me, it gave me my life back,” says Betty Donald.
“One of the last things my husband said to me before he died was to carry on walking, and I always will.”
The 81-year-old joined Doncaster Ramblers nearly 30 years ago after suffering a severe breakdown which left her unable to leave the house.
“I was in really bad shape," Betty recalls.
“I couldn’t answer the phone, and when visitors came to the house, I’d go upstairs to avoid them. It was a really terrible time, for me and for my husband. In the end, it was a doctor I saw who recommend I give walking a try. He promised it would help me more than any tablets could.”
Betty joined the walking group with her friend Elaine, and together they started doing 4-5 mile walks regularly, mostly in the Tickhill area.
“Slowly, it brought me back to life,” she says.
“After a few months, I felt strong enough to go on a coach trip to the Yorkshire Dales, where I completed a ten mile walk. It was a glorious day in wonderful scenery. That day gave me the confidence I’d been looking for to return to work, which I did shortly after.
“I also became even more involved with the Ramblers, taking on the job of social secretary - a job I did for 14 years. I wanted to give something back to the group that had given me so much, and organising the group’s social events really facilitated my interaction with everybody else.”
Today Betty is one of Doncaster Ramblers’ most senior regular walkers. Although she no longer takes part in some of the more strenuous walks, including those that involve tackling the big hills of the Peak District, she still walks twice a week with the group, and often joins in their ten mile routes. It is this, along with her weekly line-dancing, that Betty credits with keeping her physically and mentally healthy for the past three decades.
“I walk every Tuesday and Saturday, and I will as long as I’m able,” she says.
“I still go on the coach trips when I can, and did a 12 mile walk with them just the other week. The only thing that’s changed is that people offer to help me climb down from a stile these days,” she laughs.
And Betty, of Hexthorpe, has shared her love of walking with her family over the years, regularly heading out on the trails with her children, and grandchildren. Both her daughter and daughter-in-law in particular are regular walking companions.
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“My eldest granddaughter just won a triathlon in Wales, so I guess you could say we’re an active family!”
She also says that walking was the thing that saved her when her beloved husband died at Christmas.
“Bryan would often join me on walks, and we’d get out in the fresh air together as much as we could. He was a former rugby player, so he understood the importance of exercise, and saw how it brought me back from such a dark place.
“When he became ill, I couldn’t go out as often, as I needed to be home to look after him, but even then he'd make sure I went out at least once a week. He was always so supportive. He understood the importance of it, of what it does for me. He was always saying, ‘you get yourself off.’
“One of the last things he said to me before he died was that I must carry on walking, and I always will.”
Betty now makes it her mission to encourage her friends and people she meets to take up walking, having seen firsthand how it can change lives.
“There's something so restorative about the fresh air, and the lovely scenery, it’s a magical combination,” she explains.
“When I’m out walking and talking with friends, any problems seem very far away.
“The physical exercise is wonderful, as is the friendship of all the lovely people in the group. I’m lucky to have a fantastic family and, thanks to the Ramblers, to have a lot of really lovely friends too, who’ve always been incredibly supportive of me.”
Doncaster Ramblers has had a programme of Tuesday and Saturday walks, mostly between eight and eleven miles, for around 30 years. In April this year, the group introduced a shorter Thursday morning walk to its programme.
“The website is absolutely brilliant,” says Betty.
“Everything you need to know about the walks and the group can be found on there, so people interested in joining only need head there and have a read.
“The Thursday walk has less mileage than the other two, so it’s ideal for people who have just a couple of hours to escape for a walk, or those who are less fit, or new to walking.
“I’d recommend Doncaster Ramblers to anybody; it gave me my life back, and I’ll always be grateful.”
Visit doncasterramblers.org.uk for details.