When fitness enthusiast Leigh Sarsfield was told that his friend and training partner, Bobby, had been diagnosed with terminal pancreatic cancer, he decided to set himself the challenge of completing the equivalent of 30 marathons in 30 days, but he didn’t want to “just” run them. Instead, Leigh Sarsfield, who also goes by “Sars,” set out to complete those 26.2-mile daily sessions as runs, skis, boat rows, and bicycle rides. Incredibly, Bobby’s best buddy has now raised nearly $70,000 to help with his palliative care and medical treatment.

Inspired and impressed, M&F talked to Leigh Sarsfield to hear his emotional story.

“I’m a self-employed dryliner, working in the construction industry,” says the endurance enthusiast, who lives in North Manchester, England. “I’ve always been pretty fit through playing football when I was growing up, then I continued to keep fit through mostly running and also carrying weight whilst running over the local hills. I love the outdoors and used that as my training ground.

“I started training in the gym around 15 years ago, purely for the running machines and then I slowly moved into some lightweight training. I met Bobby in the gym round three years ago and we instantly became good friends. We started training together and worked really well as Bobby was very strong and I was more into fitness, so he helped me to get strong and I helped him to get fit. We also started to climb a lot of mountains together, and I was introduced to cold-water work as Bobby was a master of braving the cold water.

Unfortunately, around eight months ago, Bobby became poorly and was told by the specialist at the hospital they thought he had pancreatic cancer, but after a number of biopsies kept coming back inconclusive, he was sent home with the understanding that he had a benign (non-cancerous) tumor.” Pancreatic cancer is thought to account for approximately 3% of all cancers but it is often difficult to diagnose. Many people with pancreatic cancer may have no symptoms in the early stages, or they might have symptoms that are difficult to define.

Leigh Sarsfield’s Philanthropy For His Friend’s Pancreatic Cancer Diagnosis

“Eventually, Bobby was told by specialists that they were 99% sure it was pancreatic cancer, but without a positive cell type, they couldn’t offer any treatment since there’s eight different types of pancreatic cancer and the wrong treatment could cause more harm,” says Sars. “Bobby was again admitted to hospital for further biopsies, but yet again sent home. This went on for months and the only way was to seek private medical help, so this is why we started to raise some funds to help Bobby get some potential treatments privately.

“The first fundraiser that I did was 24 hours of continuous cardio mixed between runs, rows, skis and the stair master. The following week, I attempted 24 hours of burpees at my home gym; Manchester Muscle Academy. This was a tough challenge, as I hadn’t done a single burpee for months! I had to stop 17.5 hours in, after completing 4,500 burpees. At 15.5 stone (217 pounds) it was a tough challenge and my back fully seized up, causing me to stop. But, I’ll will be having another go at this and making sure that I complete the 24 hours!”

With money coming in via a GoFundMe page, Sars decided to keep challenging himself. When he saw MyProtein’s #Move30 challenge, encouraging people to do some type of wellness or exercise for 30 days straight, he had a brainwave.

“In January, I decided to take on a bigger challenge and complete the marathon distance of 26.2 miles each day mixed between runs, rows, skis and bike rides to continue raising funds for Bobby,” says Sars. “Bobby was then told that there was no further treatment available to him, and so he asked for people to stop donating as he didn’t want people to continue to put money into his page without any possible treatment. But, I continued to complete the 30-day challenge anyway, because we always finish what we start! Bobby would have been right with me on this challenge if he had the chance. Throughout the challenge, I managed to get some really good times on my marathon and even managed to place 11th in the world, in the concept 2 Ski Erg rankings.”

Now the money will go into essential palliative care. “Most days were challenging because knowing that I had to do a marathon after working in the day played on my mind a little bit, but once I got going, I was usually fine. Day 17 was a different story, however. After a few sleepless nights and long days, I think things had kind of caught up to me, and whilst skiing a marathon with 20 kilometers remaining, I hit a wall. Usually, I’m good at blocking out the pain but this day was different. Everything was saying ‘stop.’ For a few minutes, I really doubted myself. I had my daughter in my ear telling me to remember why I was challenging myself, and she encouraged me not to stop. Her, and the thought of Bobby, and what he would give to be able to be on the skier for himself, really got me through. From that day I didn’t have a single doubt that I’d finish the challenge and finish it strong.”

Leigh Sarsfield Smashed His 30 Day Challenge

Powered by his will to do the best for his friend, and fuelled by the extra calories consumed via protein bars and flapjacks, energy gels, meal replacements, and whey powder, Sars completed his 30 marathon distances in 30 days, and has thus far raised more than 55,000 euros, which is roughly around $70,000].

“After a discussion with Bobby last week on how he feels about all the challenges, he said that he’s so proud of what I’ve achieved and massively overwhelmed with the love and support everyone has shown through this journey,” says Sars. “Bobby said he’s always believed in me, and knows this is just the beginning. Bobby is now keeping me accountable, and he’s planned my next challenge! I’ll be running a 100-mile Ultra Marathon, around our favorite reservoir at Dove Stones, where Bobby and I did our first ever run together. And, each time I pass the spot where we did our first ever cold-water plunge, I’ll be getting into the water too. All told, it’s approximately 40 laps of the reservoir so that means 40 cold plunges. The challenge should take around 24 hours.”

Sars tells M&F that while raising money has provided a boost for Bobby and his family, it has also helped him to harness his own despair and turn it into a positive act. “I have a lot more challenges planned for the near future,” he says. “This journey has made me realise how putting myself through some short-term pain can help other people who are going through very tough times, while creating awareness for the ongoing need for cancer research.”

(Editors note: Sadly, between hearing Leigh’s story, and the publication of this interview, Bobby has passed away, but there is no doubt that incredible friendships forged in fitness last forever.)

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