Photos with royalty, a TV appearance and meeting sporting heroes – table tennis stalwart Ron Hedley has literally taken it all in his stride during a series of walks to raise funds for prostate cancer research.
A grassroots volunteer for more than 40 years, Ron is well known to table tennis devotees in Buckinghamshire as County Match Secretary and a long-serving umpire. He is a life member of both Bucks TTA and the High Wycombe TT League, where he has played since 1974.
His county and umpiring roles go back to the late 1970s and he was recognised by being awarded the Leslie Forrest Memorial Trophy for services to county table tennis in 2008. He was also runner-up in the Contribution to Table Tennis category at the 2021 Pride of Table Tennis Awards.
The Pride of Table Tennis Awards citation read: “Thousands of players in Buckinghamshire have benefitted from Ron’s commitment and organisational skills . . . he has dedicated a lifetime to table tennis to ensure the enjoyment of others.”
However, it is his other sporting love – cricket – which set him on course to raise £50,000 to help combat prostate cancer, saw him rub shoulders with household names and make it on to Sky Sports during last summer’s memorable Ashes cricket series.
Having joined Sky Sports’ Jeff Stelling on one of his March for Men walks in 2017 to raise funds for prostate cancer research, Ron was himself diagnosed with prostate and bone cancer in late 2018 and underwent over a year of chemotherapy and radiotherapy and has a three-monthly injection to keep the cancer at bay.
Through his role playing for and being Chairman of Bucks’ over-60s and over-70s cricket teams, Ron realised he had a large audience he could talk to about the importance of testing to catch prostate cancer early.
He organised a fundraising cricket match, a lunch which was joined by Mary Berry and Michael Parkinson, and an auction, and then a series of nine walks around cricket grounds in Buckinghamshire to help get that message across.
The final event was a lunch attended by England cricket legend Allan Lamb and former Luton Town footballer Mick Harford, both prostate cancer sufferers, and took the total raised to £22,000. And that, so Ron thought, would be the end of the fundraising.
But then he met Lauren Clark, the wife of England cricket hero Bob Willis, who had recently died from the disease and had inspired the Bob Willis Fund to raise money to combat the disease, which affects one in eight men.
The meeting spurred Ron to launch another series of up to 33 walks, one in each of the counties which play over-60s cricket.
He is joined on each walk by cricketers from that county and has so far completed 17. He has set a date of September 15th next near – his 75th birthday – for the final walk, which he hopes will be at the ‘home of cricket’, Lord’s.
The running (or should that be walking) total for that series is now more than £30,000, taking his total raised through the £50,000 mark.
The money has been raised through donations by walkers and the public and through bucket collections at the lunches which end each walk – they walk around five miles each time and end with lunch at a pub or at a county cricket ground.
“It’s been absolutely sensational to raise so much,” said Ron, “I thought if I could do 10 walks and raise £10,000, I would be delighted. It’s incredible how it’s just blossomed.
“But more than anything, you’re getting awareness out there. You need to get the message through to men to be tested. There aren’t any symptoms most of the time – I never knew I had it, other than going to the toilet more at night, but my wife nagged me to go and get tested.”
Along the way, Ron has had some amazing experiences, including meeting Vice Admiral Sir Tim Laurence, the husband of Princess Anne, at the county cricket ground in Taunton after the Somerset walk earlier this year.
At the Warwickshire walk in March, they were joined by England great Ian Bell and Warwickshire legends Andy Lloyd and Tim Munton. The walk was filmed by Sky Sports, who also interviewed Ron, his wife Pat and the cricketers, with the finished film shown during June’s Ashes Test match at Edgbaston – which was designated as the fundraising centrepiece for the Bob Willis Fund.
“To be on TV, to meet royalty and to do 17 walks, with all the people I’ve met – I never anticipated that,” said Ron. “I’m not even much of a walker!
“Walking around the outfield of the Ageas Bowl in Southampton being applauded by the crowd was highly embarrassing but incredible.
“People keep praising me, but it’s not about me, it’s just about getting that message out there.”