Man with the pram celebrates 50th anniversary with big walk in Sheffield

John Burkhill celebrated the anniversary of his first walk today in Sheffield
John Burkhill celebrated the anniversary of his first walk today in Sheffield
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Sheffield's most recognisable character, and most prolific fundraiser, pounded the pavement on a special milestone this morning.

It's 50 years since John Burkhill - known these days as the man with the pram - entered his first race.

Competitors hit the pavement on High Street for the 1967 Star Walk. It was John Burkhill's first race

Competitors hit the pavement on High Street for the 1967 Star Walk. It was John Burkhill's first race

John's first event was the Star Walk on May 30, 1967. He re-enacted the 13 mile walk today.

John was wearing his distinctive green wig and shirt this morning, with the St George's Cross and Union Jack flags adorning the front of his pram.

Biggles and Spider, his pilot and co-pilot, were leading the way.

Passers-by lined up to throw some coins in John's pram to donate to Macmillan Cancer Support.

Lorry and bus drivers honked their horns when he went past, while others stopped for a chat and to shake John's hand.

He greeted everyone like they were life-long friends.

John said he remembered the first walk 'like it was yesterday'.

It was in his serious race walking days, long before the pram. He finished about an hour behind the race winner.

He remembered spectators lining the streets.

"There were thousands of people watching it here," John said as The Star strode out with him on West Bar.

From there, his walk took him out Langsett Road, Middlewood Road, Halifax Road, to Ecclesfield and back to the finish at Olwerton Stadium.

He did it that day in two hours, 20 minutes. It was a slower prospect today when he did the same route.

John said he knew 'every pebble' of the route.

A book about his achievements, Distance No Object, was published last year.

Sheffield Lord Mayor Anne Murphy and her predecessor, Denise Fox, were at the start of the route this morning on York Street to see John off.

Both said he was a Sheffield icon.

"I was three when he started," Coun Murphy said.

Mrs Fox remembered accompanying John on walks.

"I've walked with John, and I've stood with him and sold his books in Sheffield and Meadowhall," Coun Fox said.

The Star editor Nancy Fielder was also there to cheer John on.

"John is one of those Sheffield institutions that reassures us all that, no matter how tough things seem to be, there are some things our city can rely on," she said.

"John is a constant sign of positivity for us all. You can spot him all over the city in his crazy green wig and shorts, no matter the weather.

"You can't help but smile when you see him. If you are lucky enough to catch up with him for a chat he always has a story to cheer you up or a joke to crack.

"The fact one individual can have such an impact on so many lives is testament to his strength of character and determination to help others.

"Macmillan Cancer Support are very lucky to have John. So is Sheffield as a whole."

John said he'd raised between half a million and three quarters of a million pounds for Macmillan.

"I'm very honoured," the retired lorry driver said.

While many people dig deep, John said he was keen to have a chat with anyone. Many people speak to him about their experiences with cancer.

"Whatever creed or nationality, it doesn't matter to me," he said.

"They're all the same. This damn cancer, it's something that affects us all."

It's a charity close to his heart. John's wife June died of cancer in 1992.

John raised money for Weston Park initially.

He competed in races across the country and abroad, raising money for Sheffield people.

John raced in the London, New York, Leicester and Nottingham marathons.

The 79-year-old has lost count of the pairs of trainers he's gone through in his time. He reckons he gets about 1000 miles out of every shoe.

He said he walked about 100 miles per week, all across Sheffield.

John has completed 889 races, and said he hoped he had enough petrol in the tank to make it to 1000, and pass that magic million pound mark at the same time.

He said that as long as he could still walk, he'd do it for a good cause.

"While ever I can put one foot in front of the other," John said.

Nancy said all of Sheffield was behind John, and was pleased that his passion was sparked at home.

"It is fitting that this is where John started his love of fast walking," she said.

"We are incredibly proud of what John has achieved, and delighted that the memory of such a monumental career lives on through his fundraising."

John is a firm Wednesday-ite, but he said both sets of fans had been beyond generous.

"They've both been 10,000 per cent behind what I try to do," he said.

"I'm as welcome at Bramall Lane as what I am at Hillsborough.

"Because we're all Sheffield, and we're all affected by cancer."

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