Article from the Friends of Leeming Aviation Group (FLAG) website 30 July 2014Leeming’s Big Push for Charities
Sean Allerton, 48, was left a tetraplegic when he broke his neck in a motorcycle accident, which happened when he was serving with the 34 Squadron RAF Regiment (currently based at RAF Leeming), in Cyprus almost twenty-one years ago.
Despite the tragic consequences of the accident, Sean has been able to build a new life in his own home thanks to his personal determination and the support of various charities such as the RAF Benevolent Fund and the Royal Air Forces Association. He is a keen fencer, is currently studying for an Open University degree and, in 2011, learned to fly thanks to a Flying Scholarships for Disabled People scholarship.
Sean wanted to give a little back by raising awareness and to raise money for the charities that have aided him over the past 21 years to rebuild his life, specifically The Royal Air Force Association, The Royal Air Force Charitable Trust, The Royal Air Force Benevolent Fund and The Flying Scholarships for Disabled People.
Inspired by The Proclaimers song ‘500 miles’ Sean initially decided to push 500 miles unaided in one of his everyday wheelchairs – a task he achieved in sessions at various RAF bases across the UK in ten months. Spurred on by his success, Sean pushed ‘500 more’ in just five months.
Not content to leave it there, Sean immediately embarked on yet another challenge – this time aiming to top 1,000 miles. He said: “At one point I managed to do 112 miles over 4 nights at RAF Church Fenton. It’s all about setting the rhythm and you just keep going. I don’t get bored because I usually see lots of wildlife.”
“There are 8,000 miles in The Proclaimers’ song and while I can’t promise to do all 8,000, I will keep going while the charities need money and I have got my health. The charities have been life changing – help from them has really facilitated my life.”
Sean has been undertaking a number of pushes at differing airfields across the country. On August 28th 2013 Sean visited RAF Leeming, this date and the location has special significance for Sean as 29 years earlier on this day in 1984 Sean signed up to the RAF Regiment. Sean served with 58 Sqn RAF Regiment, 3 Sqn RAF Regiment back to 58 Sqn RAF Regiment for a second tour, and finally with 34 Squadron RAF Regiment – currently based at RAF Leeming. There was no debate as to where Sean wanted to complete his second 500mile push and commence his next challenge of a 1000mile push.
November 2013 saw a return visit by Sean to RAF Leeming. This time as a recce as he had planned to undertake a 24hr push around the base later in the year. During Sean’s recce, he was joined for stretches of his journey by personnel from across Station, including members of his old Squadron – 34 Squadron RAF Regiment, 609(WR) Auxiliary Squadron, RAF Leeming Station Commander, Group Captain Steve Reeves, and 100 Sqn Commanding Officer, Wing Commander Tony Cann, who got to know Sean through his assessor role with Flying Scholarships for Disabled People. Some of the guys even covered the ground using Sean’s spare wheelchair, so that they could really understand his experience.
Sqn Ldr Jeff Metcalfe, Officer Commanding 609(WR) Aux Sqn said: “It was fantastic to get Sean here to cover a few miles. I pushed alongside him for a while and just couldn’t keep up! It was incredibly difficult to even stay in a straight line. Some of the ground may look flat when you walk, but isn’t when you’re trying to push a wheelchair!”
With months of further planning RAF Leeming welcomed Sean back most recently on 16th June 2014. This time Sean was looking to complete a ‘Push 500 Charity Endurance Challenge’ in the form of a 24-hour push, starting and finishing at the RAF Leeming Primary School. Children from the school waved and cheered as Sean and the rest of the team set off and also when they returned.
Sean was hoping to cover a minimum of 50 miles during the 24 hour period, but managed to do 62.5 miles in total. He said: “This is the longest I’ve ever done in 24 hours. I’m totally aching and I’m sure the other guys are too. The best and hardest part for me was the last stretch heading back to the finishing line at the school.”
Wing Commander Tony Cann and Flight Sergeant Dean Bradley along with several other personnel from across the Station joined Sean in spare wheelchairs with the intention of covering as many miles as they could.
Wg Cdr Tony Cann Officer Commanding 100 Sqn said: “It was a privilege to join Sean. The man is a machine. I only managed 20 miles, and seeing the children cheering us to the finish line this morning made me feel pretty emotional”.
Sean’s 1000 mile challenge continues, most recently he completed another 24 hour endurance challenge at RAF Cranwell on 26th July 2014,completing 48.12miles in blistering heat, bringing the total miles completed of Push 1000 to 374.89 miles. Plans are being prepared for another 24-hour push this time at RAF Linton in August.
FLAG member Peter Dixon met with both Sean and Wg Cdr Tony Cann whilst undertaking the 24-hour push on the 16th June 2014. Although Peter was unable to participate in the push that day, Peter was very inspired by Sean’s cause. A number of limited edition 100 Sqn prints were presented to Peter and he was tasked to raise money for Sean’s cause from the sale of the prints. Peter, an avid aviation enthusiast, got in contact with FRIAT (Friends of the Royal International Air Tattoo) knowing that Wg Cdr Tony Cann was bringing a 100 Sqn hawk for static display to RIAT and that Sean would be attending The Flying Scholarships for Disabled People enclosure; he thought it was a great opportunity to invite them both to the FRIAT enclosure during the weekend of RIAT 2014 to meet many of the FRIAT members.
Saturday 12th July saw Sean Allerton, Wg Cdr Tony Cann accompanied by Flying Officer Liam Green spending over an hour signing the limited edition prints and chatting to many of the enthusiasts within FRIAT and a lucky few got a personalized tour of the 100 Sqn Hawk on static display. The sales produced a £310 donation to Push500.
In addition, the FRIAT members were given an exclusive and impromptu flying display by Wg Cdr Tony Cann; himself an ex-display pilot from 2002, he was able to perform a number of ‘dirty passes’ for the crowd in a privately owned, customized jet supporting the colour scheme of the Red Arrows – the display received a rapturous applause from the FRIAT grandstand and, ironically and rather embarrassingly for Wg Cdr Tony Cann, from the REDS themselves in the adjoining enclosure.
On the Sunday of RIAT during annual presentation ceremony for Flying Scholarships for Disabled People (FSDP), in which 20 scholars were presented with their wings, certificates and flying jackets, a new award, the Douglas Bader Trophy, was jointly awarded to two scholars who it was felt had contributed most to FSDP. The inaugural award was presented to Sean Allerton and Pauline Gallagher, both of whom have made outstanding contributions to the charity through fund raising, mentoring and support. Sean commented on the day ‘This was very much a surprise, I don’t do things for recognition, but to win the award is really nice and very touching.’ For Wg Cdr Tony Cann, also present at the ceremony in his capacity as an assessor for FSDP, it was a touching ceremony: ‘ I met Sean through FSDP and we have formed a great friendship over the years. Knowing Sean he will be very humble about receiving this award but it is in recognition of his determination and effort that this award is a fitting tribute for him’. A full story can be found at http://www.airtattoo.com/news/2014/jul/17/twenty-scholars-fly-high-at-air-tattoo
Push 1000 continues and come September 2014 one of Sean’s greatest challenges awaits him. Accompanied by Wg Cdr Tony Cann they will be competing in wheelchairs in the Great North Run or should we aptly name it The Great North ‘Push’. All previous endurance challenges have been undertaken on relatively flat terrain and have seen many more miles completed than the 13.1 miles of a half marathon; however on 7th September 2014 The Great North Run will prove to be a lot more challenging around the roads and hills of the North East. FLAG wishes the best of luck and supports Sean and Tony in the Great North ’Push’
To follow Sean and Wg Cdr Tony Cann’s progress and to support them in raising funds for Sean’s chosen charities go to:
Or to donate directly go to
Article – Peter Dixon 30th July 2014 with special thanks to Sean Allerton, Wg Cdr Tony Cann, Gary Morris, Hugo De Groote and his wife Myriam Serreyn