The Pompey boy facing up to the ultimate charity challenge
The seed was sown during an episode of a long-lost sports programme.
Next April, a crazy notion from a Pompey old boy will become reality in the name of his son and a charity so close to this city’s heart.
In a period when the community ethos of our football club and the people within it has been earning well-deserved column inches, Dave Waterman has sent out his charity call to arms.
‘We’ve had a cooling-off period and it’s time to go again,’ said the ex-Blues defender of his work with the Oakley Waterman Caravan Foundation.
Most will now be familiar with the heart-wrenching-yet-inspiring story which provides the backdrop to the relentless fundraising which has taken place across the community over the past 12 years.
That’s the time which has passed since the 40-year-old lost his son, Oakley, to a rare form of cancer at the age of just six.
It was Oakley’s dying wish for children like him to be able to visit a holiday park near Chichester, just like he did with his family. There is now a lodge and two caravans dotted across the south coast.
The fervour and passion with which his dream has been pursued has been testament to kindness which exists within humans.
It’s also underlines how ordinary people are capable of doing extraordinary things – which describes exactly what will occur when Waterman takes on the Marathon des Sables.
The event in Morocco is the most ultra of ultra-marathons, the type of challenge to have Mo Farah looking at you like you’re a nutter.
Six marathons in five days across the Sahara Desert in temperatures reaching 50C. Oh, and all of this carrying the equipment you need to eat and sleep.
With Oakley’s spirit willing him forward, it’s a challenge Waterman is tackling head on.
‘I saw it on Transworld Sport years ago,’ Waterman said, as he described how he came to face his latest task.
‘I saw this crazy bloke go out there and all these Moroccan runners. It piqued my interest.
‘I was playing at the time and thought I’d never be able to do it. It was for elite runners.
‘But as we’ve gone on with the charity we’ve done some crazy events.
‘I’ve been thinking about it and two years ago I said to my wife, Lorraine, I wanted to do it.
‘She wasn’t sure but I signed up in the end and once you’ve done that you can’t really back out.
‘She knows if I do something like this I will commit to it.’
There is a method to Waterman’s madness and it has seen him call on Pompey folk once again.
Former Blues and England strength and conditioning coach Chris Neville is giving his expertise to the cause.
Meanwhile, the University of Portsmouth are lending their support to prepare Waterman for the extreme conditions he’ll face.
Of course, there’s the good people of the city and surrounding area who’ve already backed Waterman to the tune of £4,000.
But he’s is still on the lookout for a business to support his challenge.
Historically, there have been no shortage of backers for the most worthy of causes.
‘The continued support is appreciated, said Waterman.
‘The communities pulling together is always humbling.
‘We’re looking for backers. We still need to raise £40,000-a-year to fund the caravans.
‘So I’m looking for a main sponsor to come on board.
‘I’m out running and training five nights a week. My wife, Lorraine, has been a godsend. She’s dealing with everything at home.
‘She’s there doing it all behind the scenes. I’ve got the easy bit.
‘I’m at 40 or 50 miles per week at the moment but obviously it will be different out there.
‘I didn’t really know much about heat training and the effects of heat.
‘But I’ve done a lot of research and came back into contact with (former Pompey fitness coach) Chris Neville.
‘He’s really delved into the information and got in touch with University of Portsmouth.
‘I met them and they have been there to help.
‘I think I’ll do the distance – but want to do it without any regrets.’
A jaw-dropping figure of around £600,000 has now been raised in Oakley’s name to help provide a similar resource to the one which gave him such joy.
Yet Waterman knows it’s time to push forward again, especially with the demands which come with seeing Oakley’s wish through.
The smiling child seen in those pictures would have been 18 now, with the intervening years bringing monumental challenges as the Watermans tackle the grieving process.
They’ve been able to do so with the aid of Oaks’ army of backers.
‘Oakley would have been 18 now,’ Waterman reflected.
‘His best mate at school is out driving now.
‘To think we’re 12 years down the line with three caravans and we’re doing really well.
‘It was all because of Oakley’s wish we set the charity up. It’s amazing that his wish has helped us and given us strength.
‘We’ve had a quiet year so to speak, though, so it’s time to up the ante again. There’s going to be big things for the next few years.
‘It still feels like yesterday that we lost him. It shows you how quickly life goes.
‘We’ll never get over it but the support we’ve had through the charity really has helped.
‘It’s helped us to have a focus and move on with life.’