Sheffield’s mad walker with the pram,John Burkhill, “Even the Queen thinks I am barmy.”

Written by Joanne Mascall

How many people do you know who could walk 1000 miles, an incredible 74 times and run over 861 competitive races, all to raise money for charity?

John Burkhill, aged 71, better known as ‘Sheffield’s mad walker with the pram,’ has run more marathons than Paula Radcliffe and is known for his wacky walks.

Wearing a bright green wig and pushing his vintage, 50-year-old pram, decked out with Macmillan logos and a collecting bucket, he is dedicated to raising his target of £250,000 for the charity Macmillan cancer.

“When I first set out to raise a quarter of a million and compete in a thousand races for Macmillan Cancer care, it seemed like an almost impossible thing to do .That dream is now turning in to a distinct possibility as I am well over the halfway mark. I am dedicated to Macmillan and will never stop until I get to that magic £250,000.”

As well as reaching his fundraising target for Macmillan, he aims to do a thousand races and is now standing at 861 races.

John, from Darnall, has been long distance walking, speed walking, running and jogging for decades and all for charity.

However, his fundraising efforts are not limited to cancer charities:

“I’ve raised money for every charity you can think of including, Weston park museum, an Alzheimer charity, dog charity, cat charity and lots of various schools over Sheffield, Kirkhill School was one.”

Meeting John, he came prepared with two folders full of newspaper cuttings and certificates, going back to when he began fundraising in 1967. Sat flicking through John’s greatest fundraising achievements, it is clear that he has devoted his life to raising money for charity.

Since he stopped working as a truck driver, for Shell Gas, more than 8 years ago, he has spent every day of his retired life walking miles across Sheffield with his silver crossed pram. John talked of how his charity work all began:

John, then aged 55, on a 1000 mile walk with his former work team at Shell Gas.

“Well I suppose it all started back in the 1960’s, I was then working as a truck driver for Express Dairies, having just completed my National Service with the 15/19 Hussars Royal Tank regiment. In 1966, I played football for the Express Dairy team and one of our players took part in the Old Sheffield Star Walk, which was a famous race in Sheffield, thousands used to watch it.

I decided to have a go myself and in 1967 I trained very hard for the race, but I was no match for a great friend of mine John Warhurst, who not only won the Star walk but went on to win a gold medal at the Commonwealth Games. I competed every year in the Star walk, until it finished in the Millennium year 2000.”

John, has been raising money for charity, long before he went full-time in 2004 and over the years has raised thousands of pounds for Macmillan Cancer, inspired by the memory of his late wife June, who died from cancer, aged just 55 and on the same day, John’s grandson, Daniel, was born. A year later their daughter Karen tragically died at only 29, during a routine operation.

Throw in 861 competitive races, 12 London marathons, 11 Great north runs, umpteen 10ks, fun runs, every star walk there is and even the New York marathon, it is obvious John is spurred on by tragedy in his own life and the desire to help others.

Known for his efforts raising money for good causes, he has become a familiar face in Sheffield, a city that is often grey and raining, but this does not put John off, as he has taken part in every Sheffield marathon since 1982, whatever the weather, come rain or heat waves. It does not matter what day of year it is, as John has walked on Christmas day, from Doncaster police station and back to Sheffield, all to raise money for Museums Sheffield, Weston Park.

“The hardest part some days is thinking can I go out and do this, but what keeps me going is a few years ago, I was pushing my pram on a thousand mile walk, part of the Sheffield Star walk. This car stops and I see this young girl in the front, who is obviously ill, surrounded by oxygen tanks, I stopped to let her put money in my bucket and gave her a high five, with my big green foam hand, her little face lit up.

 As I walked away, her dad got out the car, crying, and explained she had leukaemia, he said, “She’ll be talking about that for days to come, you made her so happy”. That, I’m not ashamed to say, made me cry and whenever I am having a bad day I just think of her face and it drives me on.”

He has now raised almost £150,000 by taking part in runs, marathons and walks with his pram and green foam hand, which he uses to ‘high-five’ the children, who put money in his bucket.

John is urged on by the encouragement from passers-by during his long walks, as well as his trusty mascot ‘Biggles the bear,’ named after a British hero, a pilot and adventurer back in 1916.

“I’ve got a mascot that sits upfront on my pram that I won’t go without, who has been with me ever since I started, his name is ‘Biggles’, he is a bear with glasses on and looks like a pilot. He sits on the front of the pram and drives it, any hassle and he takes over. If I feel a bit down, he will just sit there grinning at me the whole time.”   

He believes he has managed to raise so much money, thanks to all the help from so many people:

“I get so much support from all our great citizens of Sheffield, including, Radio Sheffield, Radio Hallam and of course everyone at the Star, where my pram even has its own parking place!

Over the years, I have made many friends along my routes, wonderful memories that will live forever. Doing the great North run every year, I have met some amazing people like Jimmy Saville, the last time I saw him was about 5 years ago when he was signing autographs.

He was not doing the North run, as I think he had a bad heart, I remember he said “Hi John, how you going on? I see you still have your bald tyres pram.” Me and him go back a long way, he was a great friend, a Yorkshire man and a bit eccentric like me.”

John’s commitment to fundraising for charity was even recognised by the queen, in 2005:

“I have been very lucky and met some famous people. I am proud to say I have even shook hands with the queen down at Buckingham Palace, when I was invited to a garden party. She knew about my walks and everything I do for charity I suppose even she thinks I am barmy.”

John will not stop raising money for Macmillan charity and vows to continue.

“While ever I can put one foot in front of the other, I’ll keep going. Will I stop when I get to a quarter of a million, to be quite honest I don’t think I will ever stop.”    

A petition has been launched online backing John ‘the mad man with the pram’ to become a torchbearer for the 2012 games. Cath Fletcher and Macmillan workers are encouraging people across South Yorkshire to support the campaign, where John will carry the torch through Sheffield, as part of the UK run up to the Olympics.

“It is down to four nominees in Sheffield and I have received the most votes, around 15 thousand signatures have been put through by people in Sheffield for me to carry the torch.”

 Search for ‘John Burkhill’ on www.petitiononline.co.uk to add your name to the Torch Bearer for Sheffield campaign.

John’s next mission is a unique circular walk, on Sunday 17 June, starting at Don Valley Bowl, exploring the riverside and waterways of North East Sheffield, to help raise money for Macmillan Cancer support.

Rob Turner, fundraising manager, for Sheffield and Chesterfield Macmillan cancer support said:

For every walker who takes part and raises £100 in sponsorship it means we can fund a nurse for four hours, so by joining John, people will be making a huge difference.”

Macmillan Cancer relies entirely on voluntary donations to deliver local cancer support services. It is only through people like John that this charity can reach ut and help people affected by cancer.

Why not join ‘Super John’, Sheffield’s Mad Walker with the pram, in a 3 mile or 10 mile circular walk, on the 17 June 2012. 

The walk starts and finishes at Don Valley Bowl in Sheffield.You can even buy foam hands and green wigs so you can look like the man himself! John said, “The people of Sheffield are the best in the country. I’ve met so many of them and I would be so proud if anyone in the city who has been affected by cancer in some way, like I have, would get behind me and Macmillan and join me in this walk.”

Sign up and Join John to Walk Miles for Macmillan at:

All of the proceeds from John’s walk go to Macmillan Cancer support

To support John click here

Written by Joanne Mascall

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