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Herts & Essex High and Stebbing Primary sisters smash distance and fundraising targets on marathon challenge in aid of hospital that helped their grandpa live longer




Three schoolgirl sisters have raised thousands of pounds for the hospital that helped their late grandfather spend more time with his family.

Sports-mad Roberts girls Romily, 14, Rafae, 12 – both of whom attend Herts and Essex High School in Bishop's Stortford – and Rebe, 10, wanted to run a marathon in memory of grandpa Graham McNeil.

So they each ran three miles a day during the nine-day February half-term break, pounding the lanes, paths and tracks in their home village of Stebbing, where Rebe is in her last year at primary school.

Rafae, Romily and Rebe started their nine-day running challenge in snowy sub-zero conditions
Rafae, Romily and Rebe started their nine-day running challenge in snowy sub-zero conditions

In the end, their 26.2-mile challenge – which started in snowy sub-zero conditions and ended in glorious sunshine 20 degrees warmer – saw them clock up 30 miles and an unofficial marathon time of 4 hours 51 minutes.

And they smashed their fundraising target of £999 by collecting £3,512 – which, with gift aid to be factored in, will be closer to £4,000.

Grandpa Graham suffered a major stroke in 2012, at which point he learned that he had already had multiple minor ones as well as a serious heart attack.

The Roberts sisters received pace-setting help on their daily runs from Stebbing Primary School assistant head Tom Le Masurier, right
The Roberts sisters received pace-setting help on their daily runs from Stebbing Primary School assistant head Tom Le Masurier, right

He underwent a triple bypass operation at world-leading heart and lung hospital the Royal Papworth at its former site in Papworth Everard, Cambs; it relocated from April 2019 to the Cambridge Biomedical Campus.

He had numerous procedures at Papworth and at Addenbrooke's in Cambridge between 2013 and 2019, but surpassed doctors' expectations by fully regaining his speech and returned to full-time work.

A trained actuary and gilts broker, in later years he advised on pensions – right up until the day he died in 2020, aged 71. He lived in Suffolk with his wife Jennifer.

His daughter Tory, the young sisters' mum, said: "Graham was awed by, and ever grateful for, what Papworth did for him. The boundary-pushing treatment and care he received enabled him to defy countless odds over the years and, importantly, gave him invaluable time with all his grandchildren.

"The consultants, in their turn, appreciate and are humbled by the courage of their patients who, like Graham, are prepared to take the ultimate risks and allow them to achieve ever greater proficiency and understanding."

Tory said that the marathon challenge had given her daughters a focus in lockdown.

"Under normal conditions, the sport-loving girls would be playing tennis, football, hockey, cricket training and horse riding at this time of year, but lockdown has put a stop to all of that.

The girls completing their nine-day marathon challenge at home in Stebbing
The girls completing their nine-day marathon challenge at home in Stebbing

"Setting themselves this challenge, and for such a wonderful cause so close to our hearts, has provided a real focus and generated a lot of positive energy after what has been a challenging 12 months. They are thrilled at all the goodwill and generosity people have shown."

Romily, Rafae and Rebe received pace-setting help on their daily runs from dad Johnny and, occasionally, Stebbing Primary assistant head and teacher Tom Le Masurier – and Bronte, the family Bernese mountain dog.

Youngest Roberts girl Remi, 5, far left, provided "ancillary support" for her elder running sisters, from left, Rebe, 10, Romily, 14, and Rafae, 12
Youngest Roberts girl Remi, 5, far left, provided "ancillary support" for her elder running sisters, from left, Rebe, 10, Romily, 14, and Rafae, 12

Their mum pitched in with restorative hot chocolates and there was "ancillary support" from youngest sister Remi, 5, who is in Year 1 at the village school.

Tory said: "The support has been amazing. Thank you to each and every one of you that has donated. A special mention to Tom Le Masurier for spurring the girls on to push themselves even harder. It has all made the world-first of difference."

To donate to the sisters' cause, visit www.justgiving.com/fundraising/the4Rs.



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