Organised by the Prison Service Officers, the challenge will take place on the weekend of 18th and 19th May, Saturday dedicated to racing and trekking, and Sunday to a family fun day.

“Upon suggestions by the Jewish Community, who couldn’t participate in past events held solely on Saturdays, we considered an extension to the following day. For that, we are planning a more relaxed program geared to children, with treasure hunts, face painting and other games for them to get acquainted with the Mediterranean Steps, the Nature Reserve, and to learn how to respect the environment,” says spokesperson Steven ‘Noni’ Belilo, one of the organisers and front runners since the event’s inception.

“We will also try to go single-use plastic-free this year, following a positive trend happening at other events. In fact, we used to distribute small plastic bottles to participants and, no matter the care taken in disposing of them at the bins provided, there always was the odd one bouncing down the Steps and littering the Nature Reserve… and we had to go up the following day to clean after ourselves. So, we will distribute plastic containers supplied by our sponsor Argus, featuring the Med Steps 5 logo that, together with the T-shirt, will become a reusable and useful souvenir.”

“They were cancer survivors, relatives, friends, and even an eighty-two-year old man.”

Last year, three hundred people of all ages and fitness levels took part in the Med Steps 5 challenge, whether racing, relaying or just strolling up at a leisurely pace, enjoying the views: “They were cancer survivors, relatives, friends, and even an eighty-two-year old man determined to prove he was stronger than cancer.”

To avoid queues on the day, organisers encourage potential participants to register in advance at Image Graphics, the sponsor that provides with all their printed material, so they can estimate numbers and cater accordingly.

Noni hopes to smash the record set last year with a whopping £24,000 raised, almost doubling the 2017 grand total of £13,000! Registration is just £10, but if you can prove you have raised at least £100 in your personal fundraiser in connection and in the build-up to the event, you are entitled to a ‘free ticket’.

It’s a Long Way to the Top!

“Several ideas are in the pipeline as a warm-up to ours, such as quiz nights, bake sales, karaoke, concerts and sporting initiatives. In order to set the good example, we will walk the distance from Castillo de Castellar to the top of the Rock, an estimated 30km of countryside walk, uphill and downhill included. Anyone is invited to join and we warmly welcome trekking clubs from Spain to take part, and help us promote the challenge and fundraise for Cancer Relief.”

Wanting to contribute to a cause beneficial to the whole community, the Prison Officers selected the Cancer Relief Centre because they appreciate that it needs consistent funding to continue caring for not just patients, but survivors and their families, with a comprehensive approach to healing, from practical support, aesthetic treatment and alternative medicine to nursing, counselling and most importantly providing a positive environment for socialising and not feeling lonely during testing times.

Noni says: “The most striking characteristic as soon as you step in the Centre is in fact positivity: all staff there deals with the most heart-wrenching situations with an empathetic smile on their face and ever-encouraging words.”

The Challenge Within the Challenge

Every year, the team poses an extra challenge to attract extra attention – and donations, of course. Two years ago, Neil Hayes pledged to make the climb in high heels at least once; he managed to complete all five!

Last year Mark Cooper – who had previously biked from the Tower of London to Gibraltar concurrently to the first edition – went on hand-painting stones with colourful flowers and decorative motifs (which he has a definite talent for). Members of the public could dedicate them to a loved one in exchange of a donation, writing names or messages on them in multicoloured Sharpie ink. Later, during the challenge, all stones were taken to the top of Rock where a tree was planted and the stones arranged around it.

Mark was a victim of his own success, so to speak, when he loaded all the dedications into his backpack, and he realised he needed his mates’ help to carry them to the top, because they were too many and too heavy for one person!

Hence, this May he’s going for a lighter way of involving the community in remembering victims or survivors: there will be a ‘rope of hope’ to which colourful ribbons will be tied, a different colour for each cancer, with names written on them. The rope will be arranged around the tree planted in 2018, and the ribbons will float in the wind, Himalayan style, to keep loved ones’ names resonate.

Prison Service officers will man stalls around town in the lead to the big day, to give everyone the opportunity to ‘buy & tie’ a ribbon. Shoppers can find Mark, Noni or Kareem Pacheco at Morrisons and at the Piazza in April (dates TBA).

There will be a ‘rope of hope’ to which colourful ribbons will be tied.

Race and Ambience

They are catering for participants’ welfare down to the finest detail to make your day memorable: shuttle service from Grand Parade to drive participants up, to avoid traffic jams in the area, and refreshments stalls at key points. “This jog is intensive, so we recommend you take time out to feed properly and replenish on your nutrients, whether bringing your own sandwiches or enjoying our menu. Local health stores will also supply capsules and supplements for instant energy and glucose boost. We will only ask you not to set up for picnic at the top of the Steps, because of the apes.”

The competitive racers go first, at 8.30am, and they will sprint up, later followed by the strollers. The relay race is for teams of five athletes, each completing the circuit once. To achieve their medals, runners should factor in two to three hours to complete the challenge: “Last year there were about fifty runners, and the record was 2 hours and 4 minutes!” Noni says. “And the winner gets a trophy.”

Busy traffic up the Steps, then! “We are asking all participants to abide some rules, to respect fellow climbers and to respect the environment, and to guarantee safety first to all. For example, if someone is coming up running, just step aside and let them shoot past. We expect to have an ambulance on stand-by at Jews’ Gates for the duration of the event, just in case.”

Safe, practical and beautiful: thanks to the generous sponsors’ donations, organisers were able to improve the visual impact at start, with an inflatable arch, banner and all that: “We wanted to make it look professional and welcoming, but we didn’t want to subtract funds from donations, so we requested sponsorship for the infrastructure aspect, which is improving every year. Morrisons, for example, will provide fruit and vegetable snacks; last year AquaGib set up a water dispenser at O’Hara’s Battery for participants to refill their bottles, so this time we hope to have one at Jews’ Gates too.”

For a taste of the ambience, visit the Med Steps 5’s Facebook page where you can also find details of connected initiative, including JustGiving supporting this fundraiser.