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Harold Hill woman back in the water to raise money for Alzheimer’s Research

PUBLISHED: 07:51 15 October 2020 | UPDATED: 07:51 15 October 2020

Julia Peat has completed a 34km swimming challenge for Alzheimer's Research, smashing her £2,000 fundraising target in the process. Picture: Julia Peat

Julia Peat has completed a 34km swimming challenge for Alzheimer's Research, smashing her £2,000 fundraising target in the process. Picture: Julia Peat

Archant

Julia Peat is no stranger to a challenge, particularly one involving water. Last year, she took on an 18km swim to raise money for Alzheimer’s Research.

Helen Yule-Black pictured in the years before she was diagnosed with Picks disease, a rare form of dementia which results in huge behavioural and social changes. Picture: Julia PeatHelen Yule-Black pictured in the years before she was diagnosed with Picks disease, a rare form of dementia which results in huge behavioural and social changes. Picture: Julia Peat

This year she is tackling 34km.

The medical laboratory assistant from Harold Hill is motivated by her sister Helen Yule-Black’s diagnosis with Picks disease — a rare form of dementia — three years ago aged 49.

Speaking to the Recorder just past the halfway point of this year’s challenge, Julia — who works three afternoons at week at King George Hospital, Goodmayes — explains why she wanted to go again: “When I did it last year, I really enjoyed it, so I wanted that feeling back. With Covid too, I needed something to aim for and focus on. Last year I swam 18km, but this year it’s 34km — it’s a good test!”

Taking on such a mammoth challenge would be tough at the best of times, but with coronavirus keeping Julia out of the pool for six months, the decision to almost double last year’s task is a brave one.

Sisters Julia Peat (L) and Helen Yule-Black (R), pictured before Helen's diagnosis with Picks disease. Julia is more than halfway through this year's swimming challenge, where she aims to raise £2,000 for Alzheimer's Research. Picture: Julia PeatSisters Julia Peat (L) and Helen Yule-Black (R), pictured before Helen's diagnosis with Picks disease. Julia is more than halfway through this year's swimming challenge, where she aims to raise £2,000 for Alzheimer's Research. Picture: Julia Peat

The 57-year-old shrugs off that notion, modestly remarking that it’s simply how she does her part for her sister.

Five years Helen’s senior, it’s clear the pair have a very strong bond. Both talented swimmers growing up, doing this type of challenge feels apt.

“Our dad always loved swimming, he even taught people on our street growing up how to do it! And Helen used to swim for Essex, she was really good.”

There’s an incredible warmth to how Julia recalls these memories, albeit it’s tinged with a slight sadness because life is very different now.

Picks disease is a rare form of dementia that affects a person’s behaviour, rather than their memory. In Helen’s case, Julia describes it as akin to suffering “a breakdown in empathy”.

Social hostility and abrupt behaviour are common symptoms of the condition, which sadly has seen Helen “become a shadow of her former vivacious self”.

Once a thriving graphic designer, Helen’s diagnosis all but ended her career. She’s now non-verbal, and has carer assistance at the home she shares with her husband.

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Though this is unspeakably difficult for all who love the Helen – now 52 – Julia says there are still flickers of the sisters’ former bond: “I still pop over to colour Helen’s hair, and she still likes to greet me with a kiss when she sees me.”

Moments like these go to show that the best relationships don’t need words.

Actions tend to speak louder anyway, with Julia’s determination to complete this challenge a second year running as big a gesture as any.

Currently more than 22km into the 34km challenge, the finish line isn’t too far from Julia’s sights, nor is the £2,000 fundraising target.

Standing at almost £1,200, she explains how a portion of that amount found its way to her.

“I was persuaded to put the fundraising page up on the facebook page for my old school, and within 24 hours, I had more than £400. It was so heart-warming!”

Former alumni aren’t the only ones cheering her on, with staff at the Central Park Leisure Centre — where Julia swims most days — also firmly in her corner, alongside supportive colleagues from King George Hospital.

Although coronavirus was responsible for months with no swimming, in an odd quirk, it is also the reason Julia has been able to really attack this challenge.

“Although the pool did reopen at the beginning of September, it’s still operating as sessions only because of Covid. This means there are no schools in, so I can swim most mornings.”

Julia does allow herself the odd day off, with rest vital to ensuring she can handle the demands of work alongside completing the challenge.

Balancing both — together with managing the emotional difficulty of having a poorly sister — would be more than enough to burn most people out.

Not Julia, who admits that the challenge has been good for her, both mentally and physically: “I think you get to the stage where you don’t know what to do, but you have to do something.”

This is Julia’s something, and she’s determined to see it through for Helen.

To donate, please visit swim.thetreblechallenge.org/pages/swimming-for-helen.


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