Diagnosed with Scoliosis at the age of 11, Freya underwent invasive corrective surgery just a year later, which changed her life completely. Since then, she has gone on to start the ‘Back the Back Walk’ and walk the 268 miles of Pennine Way to raise awareness of the condition. Now a Gold Award holder, Freya credits the DofE for helping to shape what she has achieved today.
Q. What made you decide to raise awareness for Scoliosis?
“I volunteered as an English teacher in Cambodia in a very rural area, and it hit me that the people there had nothing, but they were so generous and happy with what they had. I came back and thought I should be doing more of that and should be giving up my time to give back as well, so I set up the ‘Back the Back Walk’. It was my way of saying thank you to my family, the hospital and anyone who helped me on my road to recovery.”
“It was also a way of inspiring other people who might have Scoliosis or were undergoing treatment at the time. Walking the Pennine Way was a success story that the surgery has worked and it’s not holding me back.”
Q. Walking the entire Pennine Way is a huge achievement! What challenges did you face at the time?
“I underestimated the publicity and time that goes into publicising the event, we had a launch concert and ended up getting 90 singers involved from the hospital, my old school and people who inspired me at home – it was a really great experience!”
“The actual walk itself was 258 miles and over 19 days, I had three rest days but it’s basically like doing four DofE Gold expeditions back to back. The Pennine is known as the backbone of Britain, so I had that link to Scoliosis and it’s also meant to be the hardest National Trail in England. If I’m going to do a challenge, I’m going to do a proper challenge!”
Q. How did completing your DofE shape who you are and what you have achieved?
“Without doing my DofE, I wouldn’t have even thought about doing Pennine Way. It’s also made me appreciate nature and being outside, I now use things like going for a walk as an unwinding mechanism if I’m stressed out.”
“Doing my DofE proved to myself that Scoliosis and the surgery didn’t have to have a limit on my actions, and that I could still achieve the goals I set myself. Even if they’re ridiculous like walking a stupid number of miles!”
Q. What did you enjoy the most about DofE?
“I was introduced to the DofE through my school and a lot of people were joining, so I did too. I really enjoyed the Volunteering and Skills sections and I had the best time on the practice expedition for my Bronze Award. I loved being outdoors and being able to spend time with people I knew without being in a classroom or with mobile phones. I had an amazing experience and wanted to take it further, so I ended up doing Pennine Way as well.”
“I think the most memorable experience was on the last morning of the expedition, it had been raining constantly and my group got stuck in a massive bog. We managed to get to the other side and just collapsed in hysterics. It’s the only kind of experience you get on the DofE. You won’t get it anywhere else!”
Q. Why do you think the DofE is important?
“Particularly for younger generations, there’s so much more technology and everyone sharing on social media. The DofE gives you the opportunity to get away from that; whether it’s physically on the expedition or it’s just an hour or two a week going out and meeting new people doing your Skills section.”
“Because I had the experience doing DofE, I’m a more rounded person, and although it’s not a huge amount of time; it does give you the opportunity to volunteer or try out a new sport. DofE will push you just that bit further out of your comfort zone.”