Extraordinary Harrogate woman's inspirational journey for mental health awareness

It’s said that out of every tragedy comes new strength, which couldn’t ring more true for the extraordinarily brave and truly remarkable Sarah Kekoa from Harrogate.

Wednesday, 4th December 2019, 4:14 pm
Updated Thursday, 5th December 2019, 9:43 am
Sarah Kekoa will walk 500 miles to raise vital funds and awareness. Picture: Heidi Sharpe.

Sarah’s life was changed forever when her mum Sandra was killed in a horse riding accident, but on Boxing Day she will honour her memory in the most powerful and meaningful way - by embarking on a 500-mile walk with her mum’s horse Akua Blue, to raise vital funds for two extremely important charities.

The journey will take place over 30 days, and is in aid of the Autism Angels and the I Choose Life Foundation, both founded by Sarah. The latter focuses on mental health, and runs drop-ins to offer support.

Sarah chose Boxing Day to start her fundraising challenge, alongside Autism Angels’ lead facilitator Nicki Hall, to raise awareness of how difficult the Christmas period can be for many people. The walk also represents part of Sarah’s own healing journey.

An inspiration to us all: Sarah Kekoa and Nicki Hall. Picture: Heidi Sharpe.

Sarah said: “The horse I am walking with is my mum’s horse, and the horse that was in the accident with her. Their bond was incredible. I will walk with her horse as part of my own healing journey, and to make sure that she has a life and isn’t tainted with the story of tragedy.

“She is a beautiful mare, and she deserves a life too, especially after such an event. Christmas isn’t an easy time for a lot of people - I think it magnifies what they don’t have, and it can be a very lonely time. Mental health is a bigger issue than you might think - there is a massive perception that we are all OK in Harrogate.

“Because it’s a very affluent area, there is a pressure to be seen to be doing well, and that if you are not doing well, there is something wrong with you, which obviously isn’t the case. What we do is hold people’s hands through a difficult time, and walk alongside them until they can walk again.”

Sarah would love to see other people joining in and taking part on the walk - if anybody is going through a tough time, they too can also find comfort and solace in the fresh air.

While there has been some progress made around mental health awareness, Sarah said there is still sadly a long way to go in some respects. She said: “The stigma is still there - people are fearful of being judged or losing friendships, thinking, ‘if I say I am struggling with mental health, are they going to see me differently, or treat me differently?’

"People say we are talking about mental health, but we are still talking about it like it’s someone else, and not owning our own mental health.”

When Sarah sets off on the walk, she will help to keep her mum’s inspirational legacy of helping others alive. Sandra fostered 42 children in her lifetime and devoted her time to giving back. She did equine therapy for Riding for the Disabled for over 25 years, and was put forward for the highest honour in this field.

To support Sarah and Nicki on their fundraising journey, text RILEY500 to 70970 to donate £5 to Autism Angels, and text ICL500 to 70970 to donate £5 to the I Choose Life Foundation, or there are two fundraising pages: www.justgiving.com/crowdfunding/ichooselifefoundation, or www.wonderful.org/charity/autismangels.

Sarah and Nicki are also looking for accommodation throughout their challenge. Can you help? Email [email protected]