Selfie of Mark on the Thames Path Challenge

We spoke to Mark about his inspiration experience walking the Thames Path Challenge last year.

What inspired you to sign up and walk the Thames Path Challenge to support Terrence Higgins Trust?

I perform in the London Gay Men’s Chorus, where we’ve come from just nine members to now being over 200 singers strong. Our 30th anniversary coincided with Terrence Higgins Trust’s 40th anniversary in 2022, so we pledged to fundraise throughout the year and be part of ending new HIV transmissions by 2030.

I wanted to do something extra, but I can’t run, I’m a terrible baker and a sponsored silence would be tough as a singer. So I decided to walk 100km!

From your experience, how has living with HIV and the issues around it changed over the past 40 years?

As a gay man, HIV has always been present for me. It has been a fear when I was growing up, a hurtful weapon people have used about my sexuality, supporting friends through their diagnoses, and a lack of understanding and stigma around it within my communities.

I can’t say these things have totally gone away, but the difference is just incredible. Thanks to testing, PrEP, education and new treatments, the fear I used to feel doesn’t hang over me. While hate and prejudice still exist, it feels like the tide is turning and the majority of people will simply not stand for it.

We’re just not seeing as many people diagnosed with HIV and when it does happen, the support, care and treatments mean it’s a radically different experience from what it was. And within my communities, people understand so more about HIV and sexual health – being able to have positive and inclusive conversations about it.

Mark inside a hall with group of supporters of his Thames Path Challenge

How did you feel about walking 100km?

Going back several years as an unfit, unhappy, 39-stone man, I would never have believed anyone telling me that one day I would walk 100km. With support, and changing eating habits I lost 11 stone, but it wasn’t enough and I knew exercise would need to be a part of my journey.

I signed up to do a 50km at 27 stone knowing that I needed something to make me stick to a healthy routine and exercise schedule. I can’t say it was easy, but I did it and it was nowhere near as hard as I thought it would be!   

The training put me on such an upward spiral. Everything in my life just felt easier and soon I started to feel like 50km might actually be possible. My body was working better for me, my mood was lifted, and each of them just fed the other to lift me up and up. So the following year I challenged myself to 100km!  

It’s not just the event itself, the bragging rights that you did it, or even raising the money to make a real difference. Those are all great, but what the training does for how I feel in myself, my energy levels, having something to drive me to get out and enjoy new places, and the sense of achievement are all just amazing. And being honest, what it does for your calves, thighs, and bum is a massive bonus!

Why should other people consider supporting people affected by HIV and our work at Terrence Higgins Trust?

The difference I have seen being made possible for so many people is simply incredible. The day-to-day lives of so many people have been turned around alongside a whole societal shift for the better. The work of Terrence Higgins Trust impacts so many more people than you might first think – people I love, care about, cherish, and so many more I don’t know.

As someone who’s taken on 100km before, I think I may have actually just convinced myself to do it again.

Take on the Thames Path Challenge 2023