In today’s podcast I talk to two women who, in their different yet linked ways, have grown to really appreciate the importance of identity, purpose and togetherness. They know now – to coin a phrase – that together we can achieve anything. The common theme isn’t dementia, but being the partners of military men – though never fear, dementia plays quite a part in our discussions as you will hear.
Heather Sharp and her husband were both serving in the Army when, after having their two children, Heather made the difficult decision to leave. She didn’t know what to expect as a military wife and readily admits she had preconceived notions of coffee mornings and bridge. How wrong she was.
Heather discovered a diverse, dynamic and resilient group of women who had all made huge sacrifices to support their partners’ careers -and she realised that if this amazing set of women harnessed their skills and experiences they could achieve incredible goals. And so the Forces Wives Challenge was born. Through their feats of endeavour, including climbing the world’s highest volcano, they raise funds for deserving causes that almost always involve Forces children.
My second guest is Steph Quintrell. Another Army wife and mother, Steph worked for many years in the care sector, often among those with dementia, until, in 2019 she was diagnosed with a profoundly life-changing complex neurological disorder and found herself permanently confined to a wheelchair. She says it took her two years to come to terms with her diagnosis.
Then she discovered the Forces Wives Challenge on Facebook and immediately recognised the women involved in it as kindred spirits who were, like her, outdoor, energetic, passionate. She couldn’t physically partake in the physically demanding challenges, so took on an admin role, enabling her to build relationships with Forces Wives members, which she loved. A keen horsewoman, Steph rediscovered freedom and independence through riding and it was her husband John who suggested that, were the Forces Wives to take on a riding challenge, Steph could take part.
This June, Steph will be part of the team crossing the Pyrenees on horseback as they recreate the Second World War Freedom Trail, one of the many escape routes over the mountains into Spain. The arduous 130km trek will take five days to complete. An astonishing achievement for anyone, a true route to freedom and independence for Steph, who told me, “Being part of the Forces Wives Challenge gave me back my sense of being, of identity and purpose. I’m a much happier person now – in fact I have a happier life now than before my disability”.
The Walk to Freedom will highlight the power of adventure and team spirit to overcome adversity, whether that be physical disability, loss of confidence, identity, purpose. It’s no surprise that the motto of the Forces Wives Challenge is “Together We Can Achieve Anything”.