Up and running
When Freemason Geoff Cousen suffered two strokes, it was the MSF’s support that enabled him to return home. His daughter Sue tells Imogen Beecroft how taking on an ultra marathon in the Lake District was her way of saying ‘thank you’
The Lake District’s dramatic scenery attracts visitors from across the world, keen to savour its rugged fells and literary associations. But for Sue Cousen, admiring the National Park’s picturesque charms was not top of the agenda on 27 June. Raising money for the Masonic Samaritan Fund (MSF), she ran a gruelling 55km amid the mountains and valleys. As her father, Geoff Cousen, a Grand Officer in the Craft and Royal Arch, says, ‘She must be mad.’
Sue decided to raise money for the MSF last year, after the charity supported her father when he suffered two strokes, aged 83. Geoff has been an active Freemason for almost 60 years, in Runic Lodge, No. 6019, in the Province of West Lancashire, and served as vice-chairman and chairman of the Lancaster and District Group of lodges and chapters.
‘I’ve spoken about how we rely upon the charities many times, but I’d never realised quite how much. I shall be forever grateful to the MSF.’ Geoff Cousen
Following the strokes, Geoff was unable to walk and made little progress in his recovery. He was discharged from hospital after four months and sent to a nursing home. His family doubted whether he would ever be able to return to his normal life. Geoff says, ‘I didn’t think I’d get back home because I couldn’t really do anything. I can only use one hand so that made things difficult.’
Steps to recovery
Then Ernie Greenhalgh, a lifelong friend of Geoff’s and Provincial Grand Almoner for West Lancashire, stepped in. ‘I managed to get a small grant from the West Lancashire Freemasons’ Charity to pay for an independent occupational therapist to assess Geoff. They worked on him for three weeks and he made quite good progress. I told the MSF and they helped towards the cost of his physiotherapy over the next three months. He came on leaps and bounds, and can now walk about 30 metres and get himself out of bed.’
Geoff was able to return home to his wife, Brenda. ‘The physiotherapy the MSF gave me got me walking, and I’m so grateful to them,’ he says. ‘It’s wonderful to be back home. You’ll never realise how much you miss it until you’ve been in a nursing home.’
The MSF can often help those in situations like Geoff’s, offering a range of support tailored to the individual’s specific needs. The MSF provided Geoff with a riser-recliner chair, a profiling bed and a stair lift, as well as the additional physiotherapy sessions that enabled him to return home. Mobility aids like those given to Geoff and his family make up a quarter of all the support that the MSF currently offers.
As Sue says, ‘They’ve helped us so much. When he first went into the nursing home he had intense physiotherapy five days a week. That’s now been cut to three days a week because he’s done so well. He couldn’t have come home without the things the MSF provided. He still can’t use his left hand but he is walking. He can’t walk very far, but he can get from the house to the car. It takes a while, but he can do it.’
‘With all the help we’re getting from the MSF, I thought it would be a great way to give something back... I can’t thank them enough.’ Sue Cousen
Sue explains that she wanted to do something to express her family’s gratitude to the MSF. ‘With all the help we’re getting from them, I thought it would be a great way to give something back,’ she says. ‘I’ve always thought positively of Freemasonry. My dad’s enjoyed his time with them so much and the MSF really helps people like Dad and their families. They don’t blow their own trumpet about their charitable work, but I can’t thank them enough – they’ve done everything really, and without them there would have been no chance at all of Dad making it home.’
Sue decided to take on the Lake District Ultimate Trails Challenge, an ultra marathon course that starts and ends in Ambleside, near Lake Windermere. Over 55km of challenging terrain, runners cover 1,700m of ascent and descent. A regular runner, Sue trained five times a week in preparation for the day.
Speaking just before the race, she said: ‘It sounded like a good idea when I signed up last year but I do keep having nightmares now! I know the hills will be the biggest challenge because I’m used to flat running, so this is completely out of my comfort zone. I’ve got no idea how long it will take, but I’ll be quite happy to complete it – that’s the main thing.’
Rising to the challenge
Sue completed the run in 10 hours, 38 minutes and 17 seconds, taking 217th place out of 312 runners.
‘It was hard work but it was good,’ she says. ‘The camaraderie was great and everyone helped each other around the course. Some of the hills were a lot bigger and longer than I anticipated, but I got round. The hardest part was Grisedale Hause, which felt like a never-ending climb. Even coming down was hard because the ground was stony and there are steep drops nearby, so it wasn’t just a straightforward run.’
In total, Sue raised around £2,000 for the MSF and recovered from the challenge well: ‘I struggled to walk for a couple of days afterwards, but felt fine by the end of the week. My legs were okay and I went back to training five days after the race.’
John McCrohan, Grants Director of the MSF, explains that without fundraising efforts like Sue’s, the MSF wouldn’t be able to offer the breadth of support to those most in need. ‘All the money that she raised will be available to support Freemasons and their loved ones,’ he says.
For McCrohan and the MSF, it is particularly significant to receive support from a non-mason.
‘We always hope that the support we offer will not only help a Freemason in a time of need, but will also benefit the family. The support can help relieve some of their caring responsibilities or reassure them that their loved one is getting the essential help they need.’
Geoff could not be more proud of his daughter and the contribution she’s made. ‘I’ve been a mason for 57 years now. They’ve been very good to me and I’ve enjoyed every minute of it. Although I’ve spoken about how we rely upon the charities many times in speeches, I’d never realised quite how much.
You hear about them, you talk about them, but you don’t understand them really – until you’ve got to use them. I shall be forever grateful to the MSF.’