Women's Sports: Meet Rosie Swale Pope, the 73-year-old adventurer running from Brighton to Nepal

Rosie Swale Pope has already run 20,000 miles around the world unsupported

Rosie Swale Pope MBE is 73 and unstoppable. In 2003 she started running 20,000 miles around the world. It took five years and she is the only person to have completed the challenge unsupported.

Now she is running to Kathmandu from Brighton. Swale Pope started her 6000-mile journey in July 2018. So far she has passed through 12 countries covering some 2000 miles.

Swale Pope was spurred on to run around the world following the death of her husband from prostate cancer. She raised awareness of early diagnosis and fundraised for a Russian orphanage in Kitezh. 

This time, she decided to set off on a new adventure after breaking her hip two years ago. It was, says Swale Pope, “a wake-up call”. Initially, she set out with no goal in mind but to run to places around the world that meant a lot to her.

Kathmandu became her ultimate destination after a walk in the Lake District with Jonathan Scorer, the Communications Manager for charity PHASE Worldwide. He suggested to Swale Pope that she continue to Nepal to fundraise for them.

The charity works with local communities in Nepal providing sustainable healthcare, education and livelihood training and facilities, for example training nurses. Some of the villages that PHASE Worldwide work with can be from three to four days away from the nearest road. Without these long-term solutions that PHASE help establish, they may not be able to access similar facilities.

Swale Pope has been an ambassador for PHASE Worldwide for over five years and had already run from Brighton to Germany when Scorer made his suggestion. It didn’t take Swale Pope long to say yes, Scorer recalls her calling back the next day.

She remembers: “I said yes, it sounded fun.” Swale Pope adds that what appeals to her about Phase Worldwide is “[they] help people to help themselves, it empowers and enables.”

She is aiming to raise £30,000, an amount that would fund a community outpost for a whole year, paying a nurse and giving healthcare to a population of between five and six thousand.

“It would have a huge impact for a community in Nepal that didn’t have access to all these things otherwise,” explains Scorer.

Since then, Swale Pope has been running across Europe, tugging a bright red cart behind her that contains all the belongings she needs along the way and is her home while she's on the road. On Friday 20 December she ran the Turkish Bosphorus Bridge officially crossing over into Asia, beginning the second leg of her journey. 

Talking to Swale Pope, she is relentlessly upbeat, overflowing with passion for the charity, her challenge and life itself. Although she does stay in a hotel from time to time to recuperate, Swale Pope says: “I sleep by the streets, I eat anything that there happens to be. I’m doing it by choice so I can meet people.” 

Roise's adventure

She runs half a marathon five days of the week, taking two days to recover, write emails and get organised. She also says she loves to stop and talk to people along the way.

“People think you have a lot of time alone but you’re so busy,” explains Swale Pope, “I take selfies, cook, shop and look after myself.” The challenge is entirely self-funded, so she is working along the way too doing speaking engagements. She also does all her social media and writes about her adventures.

It’s a challenge of mammoth proportions but Swale Pope thrives off it: “Everybody needs something so that keeps me going and it’s also a lot of fun pulling a cart, my little home all the way. It attracts a lot of attention and that’s a blessing because it helps the message.”

Scorer tells me that Swale Pope said she didn’t want to come home for Christmas: “She said she wanted to spend Christmas somewhere on the side of the road in the middle of nowhere with some stray dogs. That’s just what she loves to do.”

While for many of us the thought of running through Christmas isn’t exactly appealing, Swale Pope does make her adventure sound like an almost attractive prospect. “Freedom means I can run at night and I can sleep under the stars and it’s just fantastic,” she explains, “[at night] I get total peace”.

It’s not a safe challenge. When Swale Pope ran around the world, for example, she encountered wolves, bears and a drunken axeman and that was just in Siberia.

To run as safely as possible, she says: “I run at night or very early in the morning because it’s easier with traffic. I’ve done this constantly very safely and I’ve been to some quite dangerous countries like Serbia and Bulgaria all by myself.” 

Roise's adventure

It turns out that most recently her biggest foe was a pothole. She was due to be crossing the famous Galata Bridge in Istanbul the next day and had media appearances planned (Scorer tells me that “Turkish twitter has gone a bit mad for Rosie”).

Swale Pope recalls: “I fell flat on my nose and I hurt myself badly, I looked a total mess, I looked horrible.” She adds: “Honestly it was so bad the next day when I went for coffee, they ushered me up the stairs, so I didn’t put off the rest of the customers.” In what is clearly typical Swale Pope style, this didn’t phase her much and she ran across the bridge, head held high.

One of the reasons why Swale Pope is such a natural fit with PHASE Worldwide according to Scorer is that they both aim to empower: “Everyone [Swale Pope] meets she wants to empower them to do whatever they want to do with their lives, that they can be active at any point at any age, that everyone should be fearless.”

This comes through talking to her. She continuously returns to the idea that she isn’t saying she wants everyone to go out and run like her, she just wants everyone to make the most of life: “I think life is precious.”

“I’m fortunate enough to be full of life and extremely bouncy and very happy,” says Swale Pope. “Don’t look at the whole journey, look at the next step. There isn’t a finish line, even when you die the memory is passed on – my husband inspired me and all the people I meet everywhere. You don’t have to run around the bloody world, it’s the ethos, so little steps.”

Taking on a new challenge has become her response to adversity, whether that's running around the world after losing her husband to cancer or more recently breaking her hip and getting back out on the road: “I had to turn things around and pay honour to these things.” 

Surprisingly she says she was an awful runner when she was at school, but she explains that her fearless outlook does stem from childhood. Even though money was tight, and circumstances weren’t easy, neither her mother who passed away when she was two nor her grandmother who raised her after “believed in the word impossible” says Swale Pope.

Scorer describes her as: “An amazingly fearless, powerful woman, nothing seems to daunt her. She just loves meeting all the people along the way and inspiring as many people as she can.”

She is inspiring, hearing her joy for life and adventure is infectious, as is her positivity. As she concedes that “it’s a very hard life” she instantly adds: “The hardest venture and the most joyful at times is life.”

The hardest in Swale Pope’s run to Kathmandu is likely still ahead of her with roughly 4000 miles (although explains Swale Pope, it’s now 6,500 kilometres as she’s no longer in metric territory) to go. I for one am going to be glued to her Instagram the whole way.

Follow Rosie's journey and donate to PHASE Worldwide.

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