Look who’s 80 – and no sign of slowing down anytime soon!

Most people approaching their 80th birthday would be grateful of a meal out with family, a bottle of their favourite spirit, or even a new pair of slippers. But for Rotherham’s ultra-runner, Ray Matthews, his big birthday wishlist was never going to be sedentary.

When Ray turns 80 on Wednesday 30th June, he won’t be planning on blowing any candles out on his cake. Instead, he’ll be blowing the cobwebs off his running shoes and wants South Yorkshire schoolchildren to join him in a celebratory challenge to raise money for Age UK Rotherham.

Following on from his 75 consecutive marathons mission for his 75th birthday, this year Ray has set his sights on getting 80 local schools to each clock up 80 miles and raise a minimum £80. All monies raised will compensate Age UK Rotherham, of which Ray is an ambassador, for the donations they have lost over the last two years following the cancellation of the Rotherham 10K.

“Even if each of the 80 schools had 80 kids taking part and each child donated £1 to take part– that’s £6,400 we’d raise. But I’m hoping it will exceed that. Some schools have around 400 pupils so imagine having over 30,000 children all running on that day for my birthday. Magic,” Ray says.

Around 20 schools are already signed up as we go to press, so a quarter of the way to Ray’s target. His former primary school, St Bede’s Catholic Primary in Kimberworth, is already planning to do more to help Ray raise money. The headteacher, Mrs Wassell, is aiming to get all of her pupils running a mile a day throughout June.

Ray at school

On the day, Ray hopes to make his way around as many of the schools involved as possible. But with interest from primaries in Doncaster, this time he’ll be more likely driving between the school gates than running.

Ray was a driving force behind the Run a Mile a Day initiative which started a few years ago to encourage Rotherham school pupils to undertake more exercise in a bid to improve mental wellbeing and reduce obesity levels in children. This birthday challenge will follow the same idea, with children who take part running just one mile during the school day, with no special footwear or sportwear required.

There are also talks for the event to go global, with schoolchildren in Cambodia set to join in Ray’s birthday challenge thanks to international fitness entrepreneur, Lorenzo Lanzafame, who Ray met while on a trip to Singapore.

If you are a parent or a teacher at a school in South Yorkshire that would be interested in taking part to support Ray’s birthday wish, you can register here.