A County Durham business owner that underwent Open Heart Surgery at the age of 23, and lives with the risk of contracting a potentially life-threatening illness has developed a virtual challenge to encourage people to get active and raise funds for the British Heart Foundation (BHF).

Darren Cutler, aged 44, Managing Director and Sports Therapist at Fit2TheCore Training Systems based in Consett said ‘keeping active during the last year or so has been extremely difficult for everyone. However, I personally discovered virtual challenges are a great way of keeping motivated and have ran up Everest, covered the distance from Land’s End to John O’Groats and completed a marathon in Mexico without leaving the local area!’

The father of two was inspired to take on the challenges and fundraise for the BHF after his personal battle with heart problems, including Open Heart surgery in 1999 and two subsequent bouts of endocarditis, an infection of the heart lining that can be life-threatening.

Darren has never let any setbacks stop him and in December 2019 he began his fundraising efforts for the BHF’s life-saving research by running 13 miles side-by-side with Dr Michael Cave, the cardiologist who treated him. The challenge earned him the title of ‘Pig Heart Man’ due to the small piece of pig’s heart drafted in to his to repair a Pseudo Aneurism and since then, he has raised over £3,000 for the charity.

“Here in the North East our Football Clubs are the heart of our communities, so I wanted to try and develop an incentive around people’s passion for their local team and appeal to the wider community. ‘Heart of the North’ is suitable for anyone of any ability and is designed to get everyone out walking or running regularly to improve their physical and mental health. The challenge is a 266.3-mile course from Ashington to Penrith, with 20 non-league club’s home ground representing a checkpoint, as well as some of our iconic landmarks being visited on route. Runs or walks can be completed anywhere, and participants simply upload their milage and can check where they are on a fully interactive map. Participants can also see how everyone is progressing, so there’s extra motivation in competing with family and friends wherever they may live.”

“My hope is that I can give something back to the BHF whilst getting as many people as possible active and outside to explore what’s on their doorstep. With a bit of luck, the initiative might have a wider reach and showcase our region and, of course, our football clubs.”

Thanks to funding from the Genesis Project, there are 50 FREE places available to residents of Derwentside to join the challenge.

“I’m delighted to have secured this funding and thankful to the Genesis Project for recognising the importance of encouraging people to get active to improve their physical and mental wellbeing. This funding will make the challenge more accessible and, of course, help us to raise more essential funds for the BHF.”

To sign up to Darren’s fundraising challenge, visit fit2thecore.uk/virtual-challenges and use code ‘PROJECT50’ to claim a free place.

Around 360,000 people are living with heart and circulatory diseases in the North East of England – and shockingly, every 70 minutes, someone in the region dies from these conditions.

The BHF funds life-saving research into these conditions, including congenital heart diseases, stroke and vascular dementia, and their risk factors such as diabetes and high blood pressure.

However, due to the impact of the Covid-19 pandemic, the BHF’s funding for new research has halved this year alone – at a time when heart and circulatory diseases still cause heartbreak on every street.

Jodie Shepherd, Area Fundraising Manager at the BHF, said: “We are so grateful that Darren chose to take on this personal challenge in aid of the BHF’s life-saving research.

“OUR RESEARCH TO SAVE AND IMPROVE LIVES IS FUNDED ENTIRELY BY THE PUBLIC, INCLUDING THE GENEROUS SUPPORT OF PEOPLE LIKE DARREN. DUE TO THE REDUCTION IN OUR INCOME, THIS SUPPORT HAS SIMPLY NEVER BEEN MORE NEEDED.”

Anyone interested in fundraising for the BHF can contact Jodie Shepherd, BHF’s Area Fundraising Manager, by emailing shepherdj@bhf.org.uk


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