Ben Shephard and Whitley Bay dad set off on Coast to Coast challenge

AN EPIC journey involving two days of cycling and five days of marathons is finally under way for a devoted dad raising vital cash for the hospital unit which saved his son’s life.

Coast to coast chartity bike/run with TV presenter Ben Shepherd and Ivan Hollingsworth, right, pictured with wife Nadine and son Seb

AN EPIC journey involving two days of cycling and five days of marathons is finally under way for a devoted dad raising vital cash for the hospital unit which saved his son’s life.

Ivan Hollingsworth and his close friend, TV presenter Ben Shephard, yesterday dipped the back wheels of their bikes into the North Sea at Tynemouth, marking the start of their week-long challenge.

Last year, the firm friends who met at university ran from Whitehaven in Cumbria to the same North Tyneside beach in a gruelling Coast-to-Coast fundraiser.

But that wasn’t competitive enough for the pair this time around.

This time, Ben and Ivan, a pharmaceutical rep from Whitley Bay, will take two days to cycle the 140-miles to Cumbria, then run a marathon every day for five days on the return journey.

The week-long challenge is designed to raise money for the Children’s Heart Unit Fund (CHUF), based at the Freeman Hospital in Newcastle where medics carried out life-saving surgery on Ivan’s son Sebastian.

Sebastian – who will follow his father in a support car together with Ivan’s wife Nadine – was just 15 hours old when his parents were told he suffered from the congenital heart defect Tetralogy of Fallot.

Sixteen weeks later, the team at the Freeman carried out surgery on tiny Sebastian and, ever since then, the couple have channeled their efforts into fundraising for the Children’s Heart Unit Fund through a fund they set up called Seb4Chuf.

As a Morpeth Harrier runner and former competitive athlete, it made sense for 35-year-old Ivan to use his running skills to raise funds for his cause. And ITV and Sky Sports presenter Ben, 36, has joined him every step of the way.

Their target is £120,000, and they’ve already raised in excess of £84,000 before setting off.

Having had little more than three hours’ sleep on the eve of the “C2C Squared” challenge, an excited Ivan said: “This is our own way of saying thank you for saving our boy’s life, and if we can help pay for much-needed equipment that will save other lives, then this is more than we could ever ask.”

Ben, who will present a new gameshow called Safecrackers this Autumn, revealed he is bracing himself for a few blisters with their extra challenge this year.

He said: “We are two fit guys, and I for one consider myself quite a fit and determined bloke, but this is daunting. I’ve run marathons before, climbed Kilimanjaro and ran one way coast to coast last year, but this is without doubt going to be one of the biggest physical challenges of my life.

“If I waiver on this journey I simply think of the brave fight that Ivan’s son Sebastian has been through – and still faces.

“The team at the Children’s Heart Unit need all our support, they are both pioneering and incredibly brave.”

Two support vehicles will follow the team, and both Ben and Ivan hope that as many people as possible will turn out to support them along the way.

They arrived at Alston on the Cumbria border last night, setting off for Whitehaven and the end of their 140-mile cycle this morning.

The gruelling run home will see them stop in Keswick, Carlisle and Haltwhistle, where they hope crowds will turn out to cheer them in.

Ben and Ivan will be collecting money throughout the challenge.

A homecoming party will be hosted by Crusoe’s restaurant in Tynemouth when they finish the home stretch next Wednesday, and tickets can be purchased for £5 from the venue, with all money going to the fund.

Offering extra support along the way will be parents of children who have received treatment at the unit, as well as one or two famous faces including Steve Cram, who will join Ivan and Ben on Day six.

Donations can be made by using JustTextGiving. Simply text CHUF99 and £5 or £10 to 70070.

This is a free service with no cost to the mobile user.

Twitter users can also keep up to date with Ivan and Ben’s progress by following @Seb4CHUF

Visit www.seb4chuf.org.uk for more details.

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