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Nijmegen March

posted 8 Aug 2013, 12:19 by Sam Holland   [ updated 8 Aug 2013, 12:23 ]

The Vierdaagse is a 4-day walking event in and around the town of Nijmegen in the Netherlands, this year on the 16th-19th July. Roughly 50,000 people take part each year, military and civilian, doing 30, 40 or 50 km a day.


The team entered from Greater Manchester Wing had 14 people (12 cadets, and 2 staff) from the original 60 that tried out, myself among them. The training started in November, walking along the Middlewood Way, from Macclesfield.  I had to carry 10kg of dead weight during training, although I even started carrying my weighted bag to work to make sure I was ready!


As the training went on, the group got smaller, and the people in the group grew closer. By the time of the first weekend practice at Altcar Training Camp, there were only 16 cadets trying out.   These 16 cadets then went on to complete the qualifier 2-day event at Royal Air Force Cosford, said by many to be just as hard as, or harder than Nijmegen itself!


The list then had to be cut down to 10. It must have been a very tough decision, since we all completed the qualifier without too many problems, but the wait to find out was equally as hard. Finding out that I made the team was a fantastic feeling, tinged by sadness because of the people that didn’t make it.  We had one final training session then prepared to leave, but not before getting the news that we were allowed an extra 2 cadets on our team!

Greater Manchester kicked off the third detachment on the first day (Tuesday) very strongly, but we didn’t get very far before feeling the heat. The hottest part of the day involved walking along a long stretch on top of a dyke, with no shade, and a lot less civilian support. This year the number of rest stops on the route had been cut from three to two, and we were all feeling the heat and feeling very tired, but we persevered and all made it back to Heumensoord in one piece.


The second day was on a day known as Pink Wednesday, to celebrate the gay community in the Netherlands so some of the towns we passed gave us some souvenirs to celebrate it. Unfortunately our team leader was forced to drop out due to an illness, but the team's morale was high, and everyone managed to complete the march. After the march the team met the commandant Air Cadets, Air Commodore McCafferty, who congratulated us on doing so well.  Some natural charm even saw me convince ma’am to give me her spare rank slides.


The third day (said to be the hardest day, rightly so) started in high spirits, but they struggled to stay up once we hit the hills of Nijmegen. Once again the fantastic support the team gave each other saw us through, and we completed another day!


Fresh from the horror of the third day, and with the early starts catching up with us, we missed the cheering and support we’d swapped for marching over empty fields. It all changed on the last 10 km, where seemingly everyone came out to cheer the marchers on. This last stretch was the hardest of the 4 days, physically exhausted and having no idea how far away the finishing line was. But we finally made it to Charlemagne Field, where we were given our medals, and we finally got to dump our dead weight!


There was still 5 km to go to the centre of Nijmegen, where the finish line was, but it passed quickly without the dead weight. If I thought the support over the last 10 km was great, then the last 5 km was phenomenal! It's hard to describe how good it felt to have thousands of people cheering you on, it just makes you forget about all the pain of the last few days, and all that's left is a big smile, and, of course, a medal. 


Doing the Nijmegen march has been the toughest thing I've ever done, and one the best experiences of my life. Anyone who can go for it should do it, because there really is nothing like it.


Staff Cadet Flight Sergeant Wilson