The little boy remembers riding on his father’s shoulders. Up here, I can see everything!
The teenager remembers the challenges of adolescence. It’ll be alright – Dad will know what to do.
The young man remembers becoming a new parent. Relax, son. You’ll do just fine.
Now, the grown man can’t help but wonder: Does my hero remember me?
The Long Goodbye
“Throughout his life, my father was always very strong and physically fit,” Andy Maxfield says. “But in 2005, everything changed. He started to forget things. He believed the past was the present. He thought people who died were still here.”
The culprit, unbeknownst to anyone at the time, was Alzheimer’s – a cruel, progressive disease that destroys memory and important mental functions.
“Now, he doesn’t know who we are. He doesn’t remember his friends, and he’s missed watching his grandchildren grow up,” says Andy. “Last year, he suffered a fall and became very frail. That’s when it hits you. You realize those you love won’t be around forever.”
His father won’t have the strength to fight much longer. So Andy is fighting for him.
Inskip is a small, picturesque village in the heart of western England; 840 people, including the Maxfield family, live here.
“I work as a prison officer but also look after the communal areas around the town. I cut grass, tend to the bushes, and ensure the village looks tidy,” Andy says. “I have a number of mowers I use for various jobs. In fact, many folks find my collection funny, which I completely understand. But then I thought about it. Why couldn’t I use a mower for a bigger purpose?”
One day, he went home and shared his idea with wife Karen and daughters Kathryn and Kaitlyn.
“As a family, we decided that we would raise money for the Alzheimer’s Society,” says Andy. “We arranged a charity and auction ball in nearby Preston. As part of my efforts trying to find auction items, I contacted John Deere.”
Andy asked the company to donate a lawn tractor for the event. The machine would be auctioned off with all proceeds going to Alzheimer’s research.
“Providing the X350R lawn tractor for the raffle was the easy part,” says Chris Meacock, John Deere turf division manager. “But then Andy told us about an idea he had that would generate even more awareness for this terrible disease.”
An Ambitious Idea
Andy’s idea was, to say the least, ambitious. Perhaps even a bit crazy. “I was blown away by John Deere’s generosity. However, I didn’t want something for nothing,” he says. “So I told them I’d be driving the lawn tractor from John o’ Groats to Land’s End to raise funds and awareness for the Alzheimer’s Society.”
John o’ Groats is a village in far northern Scotland. Land’s End is located in extreme southwestern Great Britain. The route Andy was proposing is 874 miles (1,407 km) in length and takes most cyclists two weeks to traverse.
“Plenty of people do the same journey by foot or pedal cycle,” he says. “I thought it would be quirky and make more of a statement doing it on a lawnmower.”
The Journey of a Lifetime
Andy’s journey began beautifully. It was sunny and warm when the green lawn tractor roared to life.
“We thought he should have some support along the way,” Meacock says. “One van, loaned by a John Deere dealer, was driven by Andy’s eldest daughter, Kathryn. Younger daughter Kaitlyn documented the trip for the Guinness World Records folks. We also brought spare (lawn tractor) parts, just in case.”
A second van carried two John Deere interns and a third vehicle was responsible for ensuring the convoy followed the correct route safely. That’s not easy when you’re traveling at average speeds of nine miles per hour.
“It didn’t take long for challenges to arise. The weather turned bad in a hurry. In fact, much of the trip was made in driving rain,” Andy says. “I kept thinking of dad. Karen stayed behind to make sure he was okay. She may have had the toughest job because she was looking after my dad and worrying about us.”
Along the way, something magical happened. As the miles passed, interest in Andy and his cause grew.
“I couldn’t believe it. I was stopped by a father and his two young twins. He reached into his pocket and gave us all the money he had,” he says. “A lorry driver commented on Facebook that he was having a bad day until he saw me on the A49 in the pouring rain.”
The British Broadcasting Company – the legendary BBC – called for an interview. Andy appeared on ITV and the Radio 1 breakfast show. Thousands of people took to social media to offer encouragement and well-wishes.
One night, when his group entered Inskip around 1:00 a.m., villagers greeted them with cheers and donations.
“We were blown away. I was simply stunned by the reception,” he says. “It was clear we were on the right track, figuratively and literally.”
Going the Distance
Five days, eight hours, and 45 minutes later, Andy Maxfield arrived in Land’s End. “This really was a phenomenal achievement, given the difficulties Andy faced for much of the journey,” Meacock says. “It was a tough challenge that he took on, and he completed it with determination, dedication, and no complaints.”
No complaints despite driving through cold and damp weather for 20 hours each day. Andy slept all but one night in the back of a support vehicle and ate more cereal bars and sandwiches than he can count.
“Andy’s original fundraising target was a modest £1000 ($1,287) and at the journey’s end we had already reached more than five times that amount,” says Sue Swire, community fundraiser for the Alzheimer’s Society. “I’m sure by the time the Maxfield family’s charity ball comes around in December, we’ll be well on our way to £10,000 which would be another fantastic achievement.”
Andy hopes his trek will inspire others to achieve their dreams. And who knows? Maybe he’ll do it again. “If there’s a next time, perhaps we could take Route 66 across America to help eradicate this awful disease. After all, it’d certainly be drier!” he says. “Maybe we could call it ‘The Lawn Ranger Rides Again.’”
The grown man remembers the journey. And then he smiles. He knows, now, that no disease could ever prevent his hero from delivering a final message.
I’m proud of you, son.