Dogged Determination for Yomping Trio

Three Scottish army veterans have lined up a canine support team to motivate them during one of Scotland’s toughest endurance challenges.

The ‘Bravehound’ team, connected through the charity of the same name, have signed up for the Army Benevolent Fund’s Cateran Yomp. They will join more than 1,000 soldiers, veterans and civilians from across the world by walking 22, 36, or 54 miles in 24 hours.

Participants will head off on the Cateran Trail in the foothills of the Cairngorm Mountains at 6am on Saturday 8 June 2024, returning to Blairgowrie in the early hours of Sunday 9 June. Supported by headline sponsor Babcock, this year’s event, which falls just two days after the 80th anniversary of D-Day, also coincides with the charity’s 80th anniversary.

Bravehound, based in Lennoxtown near Glasgow, provides assistance dogs and training to support veterans who have diagnosed mental health conditions. The charity is also a beneficiary of the Cateran Yomp, having recently received a £15,000 grant from the Army Benevolent Fund to fund the ‘Bravehound Wraparound' project.

Fiona MacDonald, Founder and CEO at Bravehound, explained, “Since the pandemic, we have experienced a significant increase in demand for our services and the level and intensity of support needed.  Our beneficiaries are often at risk of self-harm and suicide, and being partnered with a Bravehound assistance dog makes a huge difference to their lives. However, for the Bravehound partnership to work, beneficiaries need wraparound support.  Although we focus on providing and training assistance dogs, beneficiaries need support around everything from housing, debt and access arrangements with children to navigating and receiving NHS  treatment and support at welfare reviews and War Pension tribunals. We help them source this support, so the grant will make a huge difference in allowing us to continue this vital work.”

Alasdair Bunyan (56) from Galston in East Ayrshire, the charity’s Head of Training and Behaviour and a veteran himself, has signed up for the Cateran Yomp alongside two veterans who have Bravehound assistance dogs.

Although their dogs are not signed up for the Yomp, they will meet the team and join them for refreshments at the checkpoints.

Involved in the training of dogs since the early 80s after serving in the British Army supporting military dog handlers, Alasdair left the Army in the late 1980s.

Alasdair said, “For myself and the two veterans, it’s about giving something back to the charity that’s supporting us. On a personal level, it’s also about having a challenge to focus on.  When you’re in the military, you’re used to planning and teamwork and you sometimes miss that when you’re out.  The Cateran Yomp is all about planning and training. It’s pretty regimental, and it’s good to have that drive back in your life.  I’m also really competitive so I’m looking forward to that aspect! Since I left the military, I’ve never been without a dog. In the early days, the dog gave me focus, a purpose and a reason to get up and out. They’re now central to my life and my physical and mental health. Although they can’t accompany us on the route,  I know we’ll all get a huge boost from being reunited with our dogs at the checkpoints. They’ll hopefully spur us on to complete the full route of 54 miles and get to Gold!”

Joining Alasdair is Billy Bradley who served almost 25 years in the Army, with tours in Northern Ireland, the Falklands and Iraq.

Billy (68) from Irvine in North Ayrshire said, “Three months after returning from the Gulf, I wasn’t sleeping, I was having flashbacks, nightmares. It was depression. I feared leaving the house – when the doorbell rang, I was shaking and sweating. It was at that point that my psychologist recommended I get a Bravehound dog. When I first met Max, it was love at first sight. When I wake up, and he hears the first beat of ‘One Love’ by Bob Marley, he goes into the kitchen and gets my medication.  I can genuinely say I wouldn’t be here without him – he has saved my life.

“When I first heard about the Cateran Yomp, I didn’t hesitate and immediately volunteered myself and started training the following day. I’ve been running for about eight months now,  carrying 14kg on my back five days a week and covering 10 to 14 kilometres daily. There’s no doubt that a 54 mile hike over the Cairngorms is going to be a brutal.   It’s going to be challenging both physically and mentally. But the Cateran Yomp is all about team work and after almost 25 years in the military, that’s something that I miss.  I’m looking forward to the challenge. It’s also a great opportunity to thank the Army Benevolent Fund for the support they give Bravehound.” 

Since its launch, the Cateran Yomp has raised over £4M for the Army’s National Charity.   Last year’s event raised £300,000 for soldiers, veterans and their families, with 1200 participants travelling from across the UK and around the world. Looking to the future, the Cateran Yomp team hopes to raise £1M each year to match the growing need for support from soldiers, veterans and their families in Scotland.

As well as Babcock, this year’s event is sponsored by Arnold Clark.

For more information, visit https://armybenevolentfund.org/ or https://www.facebook.com/cateranyomp.

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