A former Premier League footballer dedicated a leg of his epic seven-day ironman challenge to Melton schoolgirl, Evie Moore, who has just finished four gruelling years of cancer treatment.
Francis Benali, who played more than 300 games for Southampton, raised more than £1million by completing seven back-to-back ironman triathlons in a week.
The 50-year-old had to swim 2.4 miles, cycle 112 miles and then run a 26.2mile marathon every day in aid of Cancer Research UK.
He completed the third leg in Leicestershire and said he was inspired by reading in the Melton Times last month about Evie ‘ringing the bell’ at Sheffield Children’s Hospital to signify the end of her treatment.
Wearing a cap with the six-year-old’s name on, he said it helped him push through the pain barrier.
He said: “It was an honour to have Evie’s name on my cap.
“Having a focus every day is hugely important to me so when I got into that pool I could think of nobody better than Evie as my inspiration.”
Evie, a pupil at the town’s St Mary’s Primary School, was diagnosed with leukaemia aged just three.
Treatment was due to end in March 2018 but, in February 2017, her parents, Helena and Chris, were given the devastating news that she had developed acute myeloid leukaemia, a more aggressive form of the disease.
That meant her only chance was a life-saving bone marrow transplant but thankfully a match was found from a German donor.
Francis added: “What I did was hard but it’s nothing compared to what Evie’s been through.
“Knowing the money we raise will directly fund research which could help find better and kinder treatments in the future, was hugely motivating.
“So when I needed to break through the pain barrier and force myself to keep going and get through the day, Evie was at the forefront of my mind.”
Evie’s mum Helena, who has two other daughters, Freya (five) and eight-month-old Sophia, said the family were very touched by the ex-footballer’s gesture.
“It’s fantastic to think that Evie can help inspire someone like him to raise £1million for research,” she said.
“We’d like to thank him for thinking of her.”
Francis called his challenge IronFran and he took it on despite never having done a triathlon before.
He dreamt it up while on holiday with wife Karen, in November last year and began training shortly after.
It started in Manchester and took in Nottingham, Leicester, Bristol, Berkshire and Farnham before finishing in his home town, Southampton, on Sunday.
Paula Young, Cancer Research UK spokesperson for Leicestershire, said: “As fundraising challenges go, they don’t come much tougher than this and we are absolutely in awe of Franny’s determination and dedication.”
l Go online at www.ironfran.co.uk to pledge money to the IronFran challenge.