As you read this Michael Cullen is eight days away from completing his 2500-mile walk around the UK. Dressed only in a pair of blue Everton trunks, 55-year-old ’Speedo Mick’ has been walking since May, raising money for charity through the Speedo Mick Foundation.
“I am doing a 2500-mile walk no matter what the weather, in my knickers, giving back to small, registered charities for mental health, disadvantaged young people and homelessness,” says Mick.
On Tuesday I joined him along with two other ice swimmers, Gilly McArthur and John Myatt, to walk 15 miles from Kendal to Carnforth. In solidarity with Mick, we all decided to wear just our swimming costumes. John also decided to accessorise his look with a Roman centurion’s helmet. “I knew my calling was to get behind Mick with my fellow ice friends and give him a well needed morale boost,” says John.
As ice swimmers we are used to the cold, but all three of us were nervous ahead of the walk, especially as Storm Barra was forecast to bring snow, freezing temperatures and strong winds. Despite being acclimatised to spending relatively short amounts of time in very cold water, how would our bodies cope with hours walking through the Cumbrian winter?
First signs were not good. As we set off from Kendal, progress was slow as we stopped every few metres for Mick to speak to members of the public. Walking through a small town in your “knickers” definitely attracts attention – especially when Mick turned on the tunes and we danced our way down the high street. So much stopping & starting and meeting & greeting was sapping our body heat, but is necessary for Mick to engage with the communities he passes through. And the positive energy is also a boost when you have cold, solitary miles ahead of you.
Despite his cheeky persona and positive mental attitude, this is a hard and lonely challenge. Slogging out long solo miles in whatever the weather can throw at him takes its toll physically and mentally. But Mick is driven to keep going by the money he raises to help others through the Speedo Mick Foundation: “I have been the homeless person you see in the shop doorway, the addict, the alcoholic, the hopeless case that had made so many bad decisions that there was surely no way back,” he says. Now he is able to give back to the community in need of help and support.
And Mick is no stranger to endurance challenges. As well as his charity walks, he swam the English Channel in 2014. “I hadn’t had a swimming lesson before I swam the Channel,” he says of his swim. In typical Mick style, he signed up to the Channel and hired his pilot before then joining the Serpentine Swimming Club and starting his training. After 18 months of training he crossed the Channel in 15 hours 54 minutes.
As our walk progressed and the roads became quieter we picked up our pace and began to warm up. As ice swimmers, the advantage we have over your average person is that our bodies are used to dealing with the cold and we know the signs of hypothermia. We had also all undertaken endurance challenges in the past so mentally we knew how to knuckle down and grind out the miles. But then Storm Barra hit.
What had been Type 1 fun suddenly turned into Type 2 fun. The rain and wind was so strong that we couldn’t even hear the tunes from Mick’s portable speaker. I developed a lovely red lobster tan and couldn’t feel my chest as the wind chill numbed my skin. Gilly’s bum went numb and we all found it hard to speak properly as our lips and faces froze. Thankfully at this point a couple invited us into their garage for hot coffee and toast. As we came in out of the cold we all suffered a form of afterdrop and started shivering – but the food and drink saved us and we emerged back into the retreating storm reenergised and back on pace.
“I certainly felt the bracing cold,” says John, “but Mick has the ability to make you smile and laugh in the darkest of moments.”
After a short disco diversion in a service station (have you even lived if you have never had an impromptu dance in your trunks in a BP garage?), we pushed on along the A6, buoyed up by tooting traffic. The miles fell away and we soon found ourselves on the outskirts of Carnforth. As the sun began to set we finished the day’s 15-mile walk in the centre of town to a welcoming party keen to applaud his achievements and donate to the foundation. For us, a memorable one-off challenge but Mick has to get up and do the same thing tomorrow and the next day…
“You can’t help but gravitate towards his kind, caring nature and what he is trying to achieve in helping others,” says John. “Everybody needs a Speedo Mick in their life.”
For more information and to support Mick on his journey see https://www.thespeedomickfound…