28 February 2018

“Mummy, Mummy, Mummy!”

Five year old Elizabeth Spencer would always race out of school straight into her mum Natalia’s arms, words joyfully tumbling out as she ran. About what she’d been reading, drawing, learning, or playing with friends.

Mummy's little girlMummy's little girl

A real force of nature, for Natalia’s adored and loving little girl, every single day was an adventure.

Since Natalia lost Elizabeth, she has taken new paths, inspired by her little girl’s spirit and energy. She has pushed herself to extreme physical limits and undertaken amazing endurance challenges in her daughter’s memory.

Through it all, she’s been inspired by Elizabeth’s zest for life and questing nature.

Although she was tiny, she was hungry for life

Elizabeth and Natalia were great companions, as close as close can be.

“I could take her anywhere with me, and she’d find it interesting,” smiles Natalia.

“To the shops, to museums, to parks. She just found life so, so exciting”

Born on May 29, 2010, Elizabeth was alert and inquisitive from her very earliest days.

“Although she was tiny, she was hungry for life, in the same way that she was hungry for milk and mummy’s cuddles” said Natalia, who lives in Cheltenham.

“It seemed as though she already knew she only had five years to live, and was determined to make the most of every minute.”

Beautiful, blue eyed Elizabeth was determined to live a life jam-packed full of adventures. She had dreams of becoming a zookeeper when she grew up.

“So she could stroke cute and cuddly animals every day,” explains her mum, with a smile.

Sweet little Elizabeth stroking a guinea pig
Elizabeth adored animals

The pair’s favourite days out were at the zoo, by the sea or visiting a museum, but Elizabeth also loved ballet, making pottery, drawing pictures and reading story books.

Whether a school day, weekend or holiday, for Elizabeth, every day was a case of waking up, getting dressed, picking a soft-toy friend and stepping out of the door in pursuit of a new adventure.

Natalia's beautiful, blue-eyed girl in the snow
Natalia's beautiful blue-eyed girl in the snow

Saturday, November 21, 2015 was no different.

“Where are we going today, Mummy?” Elizabeth asked, as they began the day.

Today, they were going to Bristol Museum, a familiar favourite destination where Elizabeth often enjoyed looking at the stuffed animals, fossils and minerals.

Although developing the symptoms of a very mild cold, Elizabeth was her usual cheerful self throughout the day. Topped off with a visit to Father Christmas at the city’s Winter Wonderland, their outing couldn’t have been any better.

##A turn for the worse

The next day, however, Elizabeth became very poorly. Natalia rushed her to the local hospital, where her little girl was diagnosed with a rare autoimmune condition, known as secondary HLH.

Reacting to the virus, Elizabeth’s immune system had gone into overdrive. Transferred to Bristol Children’s Hospital, doctors placed her in an induced coma on life support, but despite their best efforts, they were unable to save her.

Elizabeth passed away 18 days later, on December 10.

Adventure buddiesAdventure buddies

Heartbroken by her loss, Natalia wanted to do something to honour her fearless little girl’s courage and spirit.

Four weeks later, Natalia took the first footsteps of a 6,000-mile walking journey around the entire British coastline.

Every step would be Elizabeth’s Footprint.

I'd never walked more than three miles before.

“I couldn’t quite understand why myself” she says, looking back on how she began her challenge.

“I was never a walker, and hadn’t had any training. In fact, I’d never walked more than three miles before.

“But, putting one foot in front of the other was the only physical thing I could do, and I wanted to do it for Elizabeth.”

Elizabeth on Durdle Door beach Elizabeth enjoying Durdle Door beach

Starting from the last beach she and Elizabeth visited together, Durdle Door in Dorset, Natalia began her Elizabeth’s Footprint trek on February 14, 2016.

She would endure treacherous weather conditions and on one occasion suffer hypothermia, but never felt far from her little girl. Natalia was walking in memory of her daughter, and nothing could stop her.

##A mother’s love has no limits

Mother and daughter on one of their weekly adventures
Natalia and Elizabeth on one of their weekly adventures

Along the way, Natalia was welcomed by 250 different families, who had heard about her endurance challenge and generously opened up their homes and hearts. Every day, kindhearted supporters provided a place to sleep, a cooked meal and a packed lunch.

“I had so many special moments on my journey. The weather, the scenery and the people I met were just beautiful,” says Natalia.

“Scotland was by far my favourite stretch. I walked there for four months and 11 days.”

Natalia on her trek in ELizabeth's memoryNatalia made new friends, walking in memory of her precious daughter

Even when the trails required walking through dangerous terrain and weather conditions, Natalia found her motivation in Elizabeth.

Walking an average of 20 miles everyday, Natalia completed her Elizabeth’s Footstep challenge on February 7, 2017. She had raised £180,000 for Bristol Children’s Hospital’s Wallace & Gromit Grand Appeal — to help save lives and support sick children and their families.

“Looking back it was the best thing I could’ve ever done” she said, “it was truly an honour.”

##Keep on keeping on

On Elizabeth’s second angelversary - 10 December, 2017 - Natalia took on another walking challenge. Her plan was to walk 81 miles across the Isles of Lewis and Harris, in less than 24 hours.

A freezing cold journey through the Isle of LewisA freezing cold journey through the Isle of Lewis

“Unfortunately I only finished the challenge in 30 hours because I became hypothermic, which took an additional three hours to recover from,” says valiant Natalia.

Natalia aims to keep walking until she raises £1 million for the Wallace and Gromit Grand Appeal in memory of her beautiful little girl. Already, she is almost a quarter of the way towards her fundraising goal.

“My new challenge starts on March 11, 2018, Mother’s Day, and I’ll be walking in the hope of reaching our target,” she says.

I'm so proud of my Elizabeth for inspiring so much kindness

Among her supporters are parents and pupils from Elizabeth’s school, who have run Elizabeth’s Footprint fundraising events ranging from coffee mornings to a grand charity ball.

“I am so proud of my Elizabeth for inspiring so much kindness,” says Natalia.

A special visit for Natalia while on her walkA special visit from Natalia's supporters while on her walk for Elizabeth

During Natalia’s new walking challenge, she aims to shine a light on the huge geographical area that Bristol Children’s Hospital serves. On a 1,000-mile journey, she plans to visit all the hospitals which refer young patients to the specialist hospital, from Cornwall to South Wales.

Her walk will begin at Cheltenham Hospital, where Elizabeth was first admitted, and will finish at Bristol Children’s Hospital on 29th May 2018, on Elizabeth’s birthday.

“After that, I’ll keep on walking,” she says.

The best I can do is just put one foot in front of the other

“As a woman of faith, I know I don’t have her here physically with me, but I can feel her in my heart.

“My heart feels warmed by the memories created by these expeditions.

“Dedicating every minute of every day to Elizabeth’s memory makes me think of her and keeps me going.”

“The best I can do is just put one foot in front of the other.”