Cancer sufferer Neil Grainger and a group of 18 supporters set off from Ikebukuro Station at 9 a.m. Sunday on an epic walk around Tokyo’s famous Yamanote Line.
The 40 km “Yamathon” took the group (which swelled to up to 29 participants as more walkers joined them along the way) 14 hours and, according to Grainger, was harder than they anticipated.
“I’d recommend the walk to anyone, but don’t underestimate the task.,” he said. “It is a mammoth walk through sometimes crowded streets and it can be hard to get from station to station sometimes. However, if you plan ahead, get some good walking shoes, take a change of socks, and drink lots of fluids, there is no reason why anyone can’t complete the journey in around the same time we did.”
Grainger, who has HIV and Stage IV skin cancer and was recently denied a contract renewal by his former employer, Waseda University International Corp., says the last leg from Shinjuku Station back to the finish line in Ikebukuro was the most challenging as the long journey had started to take its toll on his body.
“There wasn’t far to go at that point, but with aching feet and blisters appearing, every step became a chore and it took quite a lot of self-determination to continue onward toward Shin-Okubo and Takadanobaba,” he says.
But when the glittering lights of Sunshine 60, an Ikebukuro landmark, finally became visible on the horizon, Grainger says his hope was restored. “This spurred us on for the final few kilometers as we once again walked the back streets in order to get a picture at Mejiro Station before staggering back to the starting point, Ikebukuro.”
The arrival at Ikebukuro Station was an emotional moment for Grainger.
“Having thought that I wouldn’t get to the end on more than one occasion during the last third of the walk, I started crying a little. I felt a combination of tiredness, pain, elation and relief.
“It was, however, a great day. New friendships were formed, old friendships were reconnected, and it was hard not to be affected by the fact that not only had we completed one of Tokyo’s biggest urban challenges, but that we had done it for some good causes too. It gave everyone a deserved sense of satisfaction,” he says.
In all, 29 people from a variety of countries, including the U.K., U.S., Canada, Japan, Jamaica and Australia, took part in the Yamathon.
They ranged in age from 27 to 50, and one participant did the walk in memory of her father, who died of AIDS many years ago.
The event was a sponsored walk and charity fundraiser, and Grainger says that about $6,500 has been raised so far. Some pledged money has yet to be collected and the total raised is expected to be between $7,500 and $10,000.
A third of the money will go toward the cost of Grainger’s ongoing cancer treatment, with the rest split between The Japanese Foundation for Cancer Research and the cancer patients’ information center at Nihon Daigaku Itabashi Hospital, where Grainger is a patient.
Donations are still being accepted, and more information about Grainger’s case and the walk is available at www.yamathon.com.