Fiona Oakes -- Is This Super Woman?
By Martin Morgan
Fiona Oakes is a Vegan Star, winner of the Vegan Society's Achievement Award in 2004. Fiona runs Tower Hill Stables Animal Sanctuary in Essex, England entirely on her own. There are over 250 rescued animals at the sanctuary, including 24 horses, 27 pigs, 50 cats, 11 dogs, 20 goats, 5 cows, 4 sheep, and numerous turkeys, cockerels, geese, rabbits, hamsters, etc.
There is no staff; there are no helpers, just Fiona and the rescued animals.
As a youngster, Fiona was a keen cyclist, riding as part of the Great Britain team, but at 17 she had to have a cancerous growth removed from her right knee. This involved the removal of the kneecap completely (Patellectomy) and the installation of a knee replacement. There were fears that she would never walk again, let alone ride a bike.
Determined to get back in the saddle, Fiona defied all the odds, and as a mark of her sheer determination, she worked and trained on her leg to not only get back on her bike, but also went on to represent Great Britain at cycling in the Barcelona Olympics in 1992! Fiona has also won 17 UK national cycling titles.
Born in Chesterfield (Derbyshire) and following her college education at Oxford, Fiona moved to London where she worked several years for a number of merchant banks and stockbrokers. However, due to the long hours she was finding it increasingly difficult to combine her work with her sport and training. At the same time, having brought one of her horses (Max) down to Essex from Chesterfield (as she was missing him so much), she began to realize that even in reputably caring livery yards some horses were getting a very raw deal.
Fiona decided to seek a companion for Max, and went to look at a horse in Newbury. She was shocked at his poor condition, and more so that the owners seemed to be oblivious to it. Fiona took "Oscar" home that afternoon and spent the next three years working to improve his condition.
Since then, Fiona has acquired one neglected animal after another, and that's how Tower Hill Stables Animal Sanctuary got started. In addition to the horses, Fiona was caring for a large collection of previously unwanted rabbits, guinea pigs, chinchillas, and hamsters, all based in a rather overcrowded two-bedroom bungalow!
Ten years ago Fiona and her partner Martin moved to a small property in the wilds of Essex, where she lives now with her menagerie that continues to expand.
"My philosophy is that I am privileged to be able to care for my animals," says Fiona. "I do not regard them as my property. I do not attach a financial value to any of them. I try to allow them to interact with each other, where appropriate, in as natural environment as possible with me being there as the "overseer and carer."
"My objectives are to give every animal in my care the love and the best possible quality of life I can, and when the time comes, dignity in death".
Fiona has been vegetarian since the age of 8 and a vegan for the past 20 years.
"I manage the sanctuary entirely on my own which is a 7-days-a-week, 365-day-a-year commitment. I have not had a holiday in 10 years," Fiona says.
Another major consequence of running the sanctuary is that she has had to stop competing in her cycling, as it is just not feasible to take the time out to get to the events. However, Fiona's sporting focus has shifted to running marathons and she endeavors to run between 60 to 80 miles per week and still get out on her bike whenever she can.
Fiona has competed in eleven marathons to date, and last November came in 5th in the Florence marathon. More recently at the London Marathon on April 17, 2005, Fiona was placed 30th in a time of 2 hours, 49 minutes. When you consider that she has no coach, no support team, no budget, a knee replacement, and the stress and physical workload of caring for 250 animals on a 24/7 basis, this is a truly outstanding achievement.
The rescued animals at Tower Hill Stables Animal Sanctuary cost £3000 per month to feed. This is a very difficult bill to meet. Currently the sanctuary's 80 members contribute about 30% of this through monthly standing orders. The balance has to be found from Fiona's own wages as a firefighter (Yes she has a job too!), her partner's salary working for a bank, and her mother's pension. Vets fees are, of course, in addition to this!
Sanctuary members visit the animals they help to care for on the two open days the sanctuary holds every year, at Christmas and in the Summer.
Another of the differentiating factors is that not one penny is taken by the sanctuary as "income." All donations go towards the feed bill.
Fiona should be very proud of her achievements both for the animals who are able to live in peace now, and also for demonstrating that a vegan diet is in no way prohibitive in performing at the highest level in an endurance sport.
Unfortunately, the costs of competing at this level are becoming prohibitive. For example, Fiona needs to train in quality running shoes, and these are over £100 a pair and only last 3 weeks, not because they are poorly made, but because of the sheer mileage they have to cope with and at the pace at which Fiona runs.
If you would like to help to keep Fiona competing and promoting the vegan and veggie message, please do consider sponsorship of one of the rescued animals. A few pounds a month will make a real difference. All of Fiona's work is detailed on her website which can be seen at http://www.towerhillstables.com and she can be contacted directly at her email address: Fiona@towerhillstables.com