A father of two healthy children is attempting to raise funds and awareness for the Research Into Childhood Cancer charity by dipping in the sea every day for the entire year.
Stuart Felice, a PE teacher at St Bernard’s Middle School, came up with the idea while gazing out to the sea while walking his dog around Rosia in November last year. Just before Christmas, he was still uncertain as to the charity he was to choose until he came across a video on children’s hospitals and their attempts to provide them with a Christmas they deserved. As the video progressed, he realised the children were suffering from cancer. It brought out a great deal of empathy from him and he knew now that his mind was set. He was to dedicate this challenge to RICC and try to ease the suffering on these children’s lives, “My children Shae and Ada are my motivation and determination. I cannot even start to imagine how hard it must be for parents and family to see a loving young child suffering and not being able to do what kids should be doing. Kids should be learning how to ride a bicycle, having fun, playing with their toys and making experiences and memories, not fighting for their lives, but, unfortunately, cancer exists and my heart goes out to all those children suffering and all those parents who needs that extra push and help,” said Stuart reflecting on the importance of these types of charity challenges when considering the larger picture.
When it came to the actual challenge, friends and family immediately told him it was a crazy idea that could not be achieved. But as time went on, he kept determined, despite his scepticism in collecting money for this particular challenge. As time went by, he spoke to others about it and found that the support was overwhelming and people would indeed donate. On 26th December last year, the day of the Polar Bear Swim, there was no turning back when he made his challenge public. The die was cast, “The kids all ask me about the sea and how cold it is and how I have to go in the sea even in rainy days. They like the idea of their PE teacher going out there and helping charities. Many kids have also shown an interest and donated, or even asked me when they can take part. I stress the point that children their age are suffering from cancer and may not be as lucky as them. Sometimes we need to think about others and not always about ourselves. I stress to the teachers that however cold or rainy the day is, my dip is only a few seconds of difficulty. But children with cancer are fighting for their lives for every second and parents do everything possible in a complex and shattering situation.”
Stuart has already completed three months of his challenge and is well passed the midway mark of his £4,000 goal, but he says that there is still a long way to go. Stuart insisted that he wouldn’t have come this far were it not for the help of Debbie Ruiz and Michael Ruiz Jnr who have accompanied him since day one, “I am also extremely grateful to my family for their support in washing seven towels and swimsuits every week. The amount of sand that’s accumulated at home is quite incredible, so their support is also key in this.” Stuart believes that the Gibraltarian community comes together in moments like these where someone is fighting for a good cause.” He also had Miss Gibraltar 2016 Kayley Mifsud join him on one occasion, as well as many friends and family. People often tell him and his entourage that they are out of their minds as they approach a stormy sea, but are, nonetheless, always very positive and congratulate them on their efforts.
On his second dip, the day after the Polar Bear swim, Debbie, Michael and Stuart were greeted by hundreds of jellyfish at Rosia Bay and momentarily questioned their decision before powering through, “I thought ‘this is going to be harder than I’d thought’. Two days into the challenge and we are already struggling. We then had to try another location. The funny thing about this challenge is actually getting Debbie, Michael and I to coincide on a time of day to do this, so the challenge is also for us to have a moment during the day where we can meet up and sometimes we need to either go very early in the morning or even have late dips.” The group normally do their dips at Rosia Bay but have also been known to frequent the GASA pavilions and Eastern Beach. Locals tend to stay and watch, at times taking their wallets out and donating to the cause. The Challenge is receiving a large amount of media attention and individuals, work placements, teams and associations are invited to join the ‘crazy gang’ on their mission to raise as much funds for RICC as possible, “I have always said that this is not about Stuart Felice, it is about those children who fight for their lives and, if this challenge can collect money to improve or even save lives, then this is the exposure I want. I hope others can join the dips and donate as much money as possible for the charity. We are already thinking of future things to do but are really determined to make this one as successful as possible.”
The team started off with three people and, as media attention increased, more and more people approached them for joined dips. A Dip a Day has had birthday celebrations, school functions and Miss Gibraltar 2016 taking part. Those who are interested in the group can contact them on Facebook or their Just Giving page.
words | Mark Viales