Man and his cat walk across Poland to raise money for 15-year-old girl’s operation
A man from Tłuszcz near Warsaw has embarked on a fundraising walk around Poland’s major speedway stadiums with a cat as his accomplice.
Beginning his sponsored walk in Gdańsk, Jacek Balcerak has already covered 249 kilometres travelling with his faithful puss, Parys.
Having previously raised tens of thousands for good causes, this year Balcerak has set himself a target of PLN 300,000 to finance surgery for Kinga, a 15-year-old girl suffering from arthrogryposis – a condition effecting the joints that has left the teenager in near constant pain and unable to walk properly.
Balcerak told TFN: “Her whole childhood has been spent in hospitals – whilst other kids dream of owning a new bike, getting a computer or going horse riding, all Kinga has ever wanted is not to be in pain.
“Quite often, those with this condition voluntarily have their limbs amputated just to stop the pain they experience; however, whilst Polish doctors have looked on helplessly, we have found a world-class doctor based in America who is a genius in the world of orthopaedics and he will try to do all he can do help her.
“That’s given a real ray of hope.”
He added: “Kinga has already had over a dozen operations, now one more is needed which will get her back on her feet and I am not going to give up on trying to raise the money that is needed – it’s a difficult and complex operation, but I’m determined that Kinga will one day walk unaided.”
To help, Balcerak has plotted a 1,137 kilometre route that will see him check-in at a variety of speedway stadiums across the country.
He said: “I chose speedway out of my respect for the riders. Their strong will, fight and determination on the track is extraordinary – nobody ‘normal’ would ride at such speed without brakes, and likewise, I feel no-one ‘normal’ would walk around Poland with a cat.
“In that regard, I think there’s a thread of understanding between the riders and myself. Aside from that, the route pretty much marked itself out on the map in a way that seemed logical, so I took that as a good omen.”
So far averaging just under 30 kilometres a day, every step Balcerak has taken has been accompanied by Parys, a cat that Kinga gifted to him two-years back when he first became aware of her plight.
“The cat was born in a barn belonging to her parents and spent its first night with me asleep in my hood,” Balcerak said. “Our special bond was formed immediately, but of course, I don’t think anyone could have guessed at the time just how much power was hidden in such a tiny little animal – or just how many adventures Parys would experience.”
Usually travelling in a specially customised stroller – though also walking alongside Balcerak when he deems it safe to do so – Parys has adapted well to this life on the road and proved the purr-fect travel buddy.
Balcerak continued: “I’ve previously walked over 1,000 kilometres from Przemyśl to Świnoujście as well as 789 kilometres from Poland’s east to west. Parys enjoys sleeping in tents alongside me, and I think she has totally bucked our traditional ideas of what a cat can do – and she’s a great way to gauge the temperature; she’ll only get into my sleeping bag if it’s cold!”
Regaling the pair’s adventures on a facebook page titled W Butach z Kotem (www.facebook.com/wbutachzkotem), the channel has garnered over 4,000 followers since its launch nearly two years back, and won the attention of both the regional and national media along the way.
Often dealing with muddy, uphill roads and inclement weather, for Balcerak these challenges are par the course; obstacles to be conquered together.
Writing recently after a particularly hard day of walking in the rain, Balcerak said: “Sometimes you hit a wall, and it reminds me of the wall that Kinga’s parents and others like them face when they are given a price list that determines the health of their child...
“Following this path with Parys, I want to change something. This path makes sense and I have faith in it even though the results might not be immediately apparent… I am not treating this as some kind of touristic or sightseeing trip – but every kilometre and every morning gives me hope for a new beginning…”