When they start secondary school in September, sisters Sadie and Josie Perkins will have quite the story for their new classmates and teachers.
The sisters, 12 and 10 respectively – along with their parents Mark and Sarah – have spent the past two years cycling, running, hiking and canoeing through Europe and Africa, living in ‘Trevor’, an ex-army truck they converted to a camper van, after the family decided to sell everything they owned in order to embark on the life-changing journey back in April 2018.
‘The Four Find-Outers’ left Trevor to rest up in Germany after 17 months on the road and headed to New Zealand in October 2019 where they came mighty-close to completing the world-famous Te Araroa Trail, only for COVID-19 to halt them firmly in their tracks after hiking 2,800km of the 3,000km route that starts in Cape
Reinga at the tip of the North Island, and culminates in Bluff at the base of the South Island.
With their adventure halted by lockdown, and a final trip to Australia no longer an option, they packed up their tents and caught the last plane home to Blighty, and to their beloved Brighton and Hove. So why did they decide to sell everything they owned to embark on this astonishing adventure?
‘Both Sarah and I competed in ultramarathons before we went travelling, but we picked up a few injuries which meant we couldn’t train or race for a long time,’ says Mark. ‘Not being able to run ourselves was a big factor in deciding to go travelling – we missed the adventure-factor of long races and I think both felt very like we were lacking some excitement in our lives. I was also feeling quite stale in my job and we just generally felt like we needed to shake things up a little. So we sold pretty much everything, bought Trevor, converted him in to a camper van and were off,’ he explains.
You might well assume that after their excursions Sadie and Josie would be resting up, eyes glued to screens of various sizes, like most kids their ages – but you’d be wrong. They were determined to keep up their extremely-active lifestyle, and entered Raceways’ COVID 19 Virtual Run Challenge – a challenge to run 19, 91
or 190 miles in one calendar month.
‘The journey we’ve been on has been incredibly rewarding for all four of us, and certainly the girls have found out new things about themselves. We don’t really have to motivate them to do anything – once we give them an idea, they are happy to run – or hike or cycle – with it! And now it’s them coming to us with new challenges
and things to keep them occupied,’ says Mark, and it was Sadie who saw the COVID 19 challenge posted on the Raceways website.
‘As soon as I saw it, I asked Mum and Dad if I could do it and they agreed. And then Josie wanted to do it too. After all of the travelling, we really wanted to keep running, so the challenge was perfect,’ says Sadie who, along with Josie, was seemingly always destined for an active lifestyle. While most parents were content with putting their small children in pushchairs and buggies, Mark and Sarah took a different, healthier approach, so the girls were on bikes as soon as they could walk.
‘It was just the way we did things – if the girls wanted to go the beach, or to a certain place, we cycled, or walked there, did the activity and cycled or walked back – it was very much part of the day,’ says Sarah, a former running coach herself. But although Sadie and Josie were brought up to be constantly on the move, a passion for running really only developed when the family left Brighton in 2018.
They made their way through Germany, Czech Republic, Slovakia, Hungary, Romania, Bulgaria, Greece, Albania, Italy, Morocco, Western Sahara, Spain, Portugal and France. Sadie ran her first ever half-marathon in Marrakech, aged just 11, in a time of one hour 48 minutes, during their travels.
‘I looked on the internet to see what races I could do, and lots of them state you have to be 16 or older. But in Morocco, they let me compete and that was also why I was so excited to do the Raceways Challenge – there was no age barrier, and I knew I could do the 91 miles in a month,’ said Sadie. In fact, Sadie smashed through the 91 miles in just 18 days, an incredible achievement, with Josie also completing the miles in May. Sadie stepped up and ran her first marathon last month too, recording a time of four hours and 13 minutes. She casually drops this in to the conversation, as if it was no big deal. But to the girls, running isn’t a big deal. It’s simply part of their incredibly happy lives, even if Josie did have to ramp up
her efforts late in the month to match her sister’s COVID 19 Challenge.
‘I thought that the 91 mile challenge would be easier because it was only about 5km a day. But because I didn’t run every day I actually had to run 15km on the last day! It definitely felt like an achievement to complete it,’ she says.
Speaking on Zoom, it’s obvious that all four of the family have benefited enormously from their time on the roads and rivers of the world in the last two years, but living outdoors in New Zealand has possibly had the most long-lasting effect on the two girls.
‘We loved New Zealand because of the people and the way they live their lives. It’s very much an outdoors way of life. Some days the trekking was hard, but we enjoyed the challenge of doing it, and the places we got to see were amazing,’ says Sadie. ‘I really liked the rugby museum in Palmerston North. It was interesting to see how the sport had changed and how it first came to New Zealand, especially as we were passing so many rugby pitches along our way!’ she adds.
For Josie, she finds it difficult to say what part of the past two years has been the best, but she’s certainly got some amazing memories. ‘It’s hard to say which was better, travelling in Trevor or hiking in New Zealand. NZ was definitely was very
tough – physically and emotionally – but was one of the most beautiful places I’ve ever been so was an amazing experience. I think that we have been to many cool places in NZ but personally I loved canoeing down the Whanganui River for five days. I especially loved the rapids,’ she says. And how do Mum and Dad reflect on their journey?
‘The girls have always been incredibly determined, even from a very young age, but what the experience has taught them is to be flexible. We’d sometimes plan to walk a certain amount of miles a day, and stay in a particular location, only to find that there would be other travellers staying where we had planned to sleep overnight. So we’d have to hike further to search for another location, and that certainly has helped the girls become more flexible and adaptable, it’s made them stronger,’ says Sarah.
‘The girls have built up very good levels of fitness over the past two years, and it’s something that both Sarah and I feel is incredibly important for kids today. I’m a programmer by trade, so a lot of time is spent in front of a computer. I know myself how crucial it is to maintain regular exercise, and we wanted the girls to have that
experience growing up too. The trek through New Zealand taught them a lot about themselves, that there really weren’t any barriers to what they can achieve,’ concludes Mark.
Martine Verweij, CEO of Raceways and parent company Kids Run Free applauds that what the girls have achieved is testament in part to parents who refuse to set physical activity boundaries for their kids.
‘When parents see what their children are capable of achieving during our Kids Run Free events, both in parks and schools, they often tell us they are amazed that they had so much fun running, and staggered at the distances these little people can accumulate,’ she says. ‘But it is our experience that these limits are placed subconsciously on the kids by the parents, many of whom don’t get enough exercise themselves. When parents break down or remove barriers, they find their children
are capable of so much more physically than they ever imagined. Sadie and Josie have been set an incredible example by their parents, and we hope their story and journey inspires more kids to get active,’ she adds.
Finishing our call, the girls are asked what’s next on their agenda, the new challenge they’ve got planned during the summer? Josie isn’t sure. But Sadie certainly has a big goal in mind. ‘I just want to beat my Dad at running.’
We have no doubt that one day, both girls will be leaving their parents in their wake on the South Downs, or by the beach in Brighton. Whatever they achieve, they’ll certainly never forget their two-year-adventure around the world.
INFORMATON: For more details on Raceways, please visit www.raceways.org.uk and for further news about
Kids Run Free, please visit www.kidsrunfree.co.uk or email [email protected]