Andrea Sandor speaks to 'Flipperkeatz' about extreme challenges, turning 50 and his flipper-free fundraising bid for 2020

HE’S always been an extreme person, reckons Craig Keatley, “jumping off planes and all that.” But it took a mid-life crisis to get him back in the game, waking up to his mid-forties and thinking, “Oh my God, what’s going on here? I need to do something.” That something translated into a number of challenges in the past five years, including his most memorable antic to date: last year’s world-record walk... wearing flippers.

I love getting out in the open. I’m meeting so many more people. There’s more to life than binge-watching Netflix

Rubber fins on as 'Flipperkeatz', as he's become known, the father of two completed a half-marathon in 2017, part of a coast-to-coast in flippers in 2018 (the rest in regular footwear) and the 31-mile walk in 2019. Why? To raise money and awareness for The Christie, Europe’s largest single-site cancer centre. Craig, who lives in Urmston, has raised £7.5k for the charity in the past three years, and recently had the “surreal” experience of seeing his face plastered on the side of Victoria Warehouse near Old Trafford as part of their Touching Lives campaign.

2020 01 17 Flipperkeatz Flipper Keatz In Liverpool
Craig 'Flipperkeatz' Keatley flipper-walking in Liverpool

When I catch up with Craig, he’s just come out of a meeting in Salford Quays, where he’s worked as a civil servant for 25 years. It was a good meeting, he tells me; they served bacon butties. His energy and enthusiasm immediately comes across as he dives into telling me his story.  

“It all goes back to being in a pub in the early nineties,” he tells me, explaining he wore flippers to a beach party theme night and had people in stitches. The flippers were packed away after that but roll on 2017 and Craig was casting about for his next challenge after completing a 200-mile bike ride (for which he raised £2.5k for Forever Manchester). “I wanted to do something quirky, something off the radar.”   

Dusting off the flippers, he set out for an ‘easy’ mile walk from MediaCity to the Coronation Street set, not realising filming was in process until he’d announced himself with the loud slap-slap of his footwear. “There must’ve been 40 people, and one person started laughing and then everyone started focusing on me, laughing and saying, ‘Only in Manchester’. That’s when I thought, this is going to be fun; this is going to be a thing.”

2020 01 17 Flipperkeatz Salford 10K 2017
Doing the half-marathon in 2017

And so it has, with ‘Flipperkeatz’ blowing up on social media; one video of him flipping through Manchester captured by a bystander racking up 55,000 hits. “The response has been unbelievable,” says Craig, who’s been featured on TV and radio. He loves making people smile while also raising awareness and support for a serious cause: “It’s doing something good and making people laugh, that’s one of the big things.” He continues: “You meet some amazing people and they really help, and if I didn’t have the amount of support, I wouldn’t be here. It keeps you going. I’ve got some good friends I’ve made from my charity work.”  

But flipper-walking isn’t all fun and games, and Craig became aware of its perils when he set out on his coast-to-coast. He made it 30 miles before the blisters and bunions became so bad he had to swap to shoes; nevertheless, he completed all 174 miles in eight days in one footwear or another. “I’m the world’s only extreme flipper-walker,” he says, “No one’s ever done it, and there’s a reason – it’s horrific.”  

This is plain to see from the expression on his face in the last five miles of last year’s world-record 31-mile flipper walk. “My face is horrible,” he says, “it’s when you’re looking at someone going through hell.” Yet Craig is quick to point out that this pain pales in comparison to what patients at the Christie and their families go through.

2020 01 17 Flipper Keatz Charity
After completing his 3rd and final extreme event in 2019, Craig raised a staggering £2,115.12 by October

Last year Craig turned 50 and embraced running, which he says is great for mental health and giving him time and space to think. He challenged himself to run a minimum of 10 miles for 50 consecutive days and he also walked – flipper free – 51 miles from Manchester to Liverpool in one go, leaving at 6pm and arriving at 12.45pm the following day. These challenges made turning 50 positive. While some people hit their half-centenary and “put on their slippers”, says Craig, “I want to be as fit as I can. I want to enjoy life as much as I can. It’s made me appreciate everything more in a positive light. Now I’m seeing more of the country, getting out in the open – I love getting out in the open. I’m meeting so many more people. There’s more to life than binge-watching Netflix.”  

This year, he’s doubling last year’s challenge and in June he’ll be walking the 110 miles from Scarborough to Manchester in one shot. He says it’ll take 40 hours, and he’ll stop off for meals only: “To make sure my body has enough food in it.” He plans to arrive in Manchester on the summer solstice, although he hasn’t decided where he’ll land specifically.    

So what advice does Craig have for someone interested in taking up extreme challenges? “You can do anything if you put your mind to it,” he says. “As long as you train, you can do what you want. There are times when things didn’t go according to plan, but the thing is I kept going. It’s just being dogged and keep going – don’t be beaten no matter what. When it was those last five miles, when things were really bad, I did it, I finished it.”  

The training is a key piece. Craig doesn’t have a coach or a personal trainer, but he understands how to pace himself and build up his endurance. His advice: “When you set yourself a task, you have to really train. Start small and gradually build up. Just be careful you don’t go too fast too quickly. It’s going out frequently and building up then pushing yourself and moving up another level.”  

After this year’s 110-mile walk, Craig says he’ll need to do something “tougher” in 2021. He’d also like to do something, in his words, wacky. “There was talk about skis, but the ski element is quite difficult,” he says, explaining the relative pros and cons of different kinds of skis. “Anyway, it’s still at the drawing board. I have a year to think about it.”  

Donate to Craig’s 2020 JustGiving campaign for The Christie that launches today here 

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