'An incredible journey' - Hitchin Belles smash fundraising goal with £19,000 raised
- Credit: Supplied
A Hitchin-based football club has raised more than £19,000 as part of an inspiring fundraising effort for a young girl who is battling a rare form of cancer.
Hitchin Belles first decided to raise money for locally-based seven-year-old Hattie Bratton, who is living with a rare form of cancer, in January.
Rhabdomyosarcoma (RMS), is an uncommon type of cancer that forms in the soft tissue.
Hattie's Rainbow of Hope Appeal is raising funds to help pay for research into RMS, with the causes of this cancer still unknown to professionals according to MacMillan Cancer Research.
Jeremy Wood, coach of the Belles' under 15s team, said the idea to start fundraising for Hattie's Rainbow of Hope came from seeing his own daughter struggle with lockdown.
He decided to set the Belles players a motivational challenge - to run, jog and walk in aid of a local seven-year-old girl called Hattie.
The response from the girls was "instant and enthusiastic," Jeremy explains.
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So far, joint fundraising efforts have seen more than £20,000 raised - including the £19,000 collected by the Belles' Baku to Bilbao 9,540 mile walk.
But Hattie's own story begins in September 2019.
Hattie was sent home from school during her first day of Year 2 with tummy ache and a fever. After a number of visits to medical professionals, doctors concluded Hattie was constipated.
After being seen by a specialist at Lister Hospital and having multiple scans, it was discovered that a tumour had formed.
Despite nine rounds of chemotherapy, countless hours spent in hospitals, proton beam therapy in Manchester and a year of maintenance chemotherapy, Hattie's parents say her resilience continues to inspire them.
"She copes with everything amazingly," mum Helen said.
"She’s always been very strong-willed and I think that has done her really well. Even with this horrible thing going on, she just has so much positivity."
And Hitchin Belles - a club Hattie hopes to one day turn out for - has helped provide a much-needed boost with their fundraising efforts over the past four weeks.
On January 18, the club decided to set out on a Bilbao to Baku virtual fundraising roadtrip - with players, coaches and the public encouraged to join in in virtually plotting every host city of Euro 2020.
In the four weeks since then, members of the club have travelled a collective 9,540 miles in aid of Hattie's Rainbow of Hope Appeal.
Since starting their challenge, the public, Hitchin and Harpenden MP Bim Afolami and celebrities have all got involved and forwarded their messages of support for both the Belles and Hattie.
More than 35 public figures from Joe Wicks and Molly-Mae Hague to journalists Victoria Derbyshire and Guillem Balague got in touch to cheer on the Belles.
Manchester City captain Steph Houghton MBE even invited the Belles to a WSL match, free of charge, when restrictions ease.
And despite travelling to more than 27 countries (virtually of course!), the epic road trip fittingly concluded back home in Hitchin.
It's clear from speaking with those connected to the club that this special fundraiser has had a profound impact.
John Martin, coach of Hitchin Belles under 12s, said: “It’s been an incredible journey. We started with the idea of nearly 3,500 miles and have done three times that, and raised more than 30 times our original fundraising target.
"No-one expected that at the start! The support from celebrities and inspiring messages from Hattie have been incredible, and bonded our club like nothing ever before.
"On a personal level, my daughter Zoe and I have loved the motivation to get outside and exercise in the aid of such a great cause - it’s probably been the best thing we’ve ever been a part of.”
Jeremy adds: "Little did I think that a small idea would create such a positive outcome.
"The original idea was based on looking after the players and coaches mental and physical wellbeing. We achieved that and so much more.
"The support and enthusiasm from my club has been nothing short of inspiring."
And Helen wants to send a big thank you to Belles for their support.
She said: "Thanks to everyone at Hitchin Belles for all your running and walking to fundraise for rhabdomyosarcoma.
"Childhood cancer sucks. Every one of you are contributing to more awareness, more research and better treatments for others in the future."
You can still donate to Hattie's Rainbow of Hope Appeal. Visit www.justgiving.com/fundraising/hitchinbelles