Karen Sterling, Boss Lady at BLAZE, The Firewalking Experts
Working with organisations to provide safe, exciting and empowering fundraising and emotional events
I’d been firewalking for 11 years when I met Martin, who’d founded BLAZE in 1984. A self-confessed ‘hippy’, it was a discipline I practised as a way of finding balance from working in a busy hospital.
In 2004, Martin’s firewalk arrived from its Nottingham base in Glasgow – my home turf – and I knew nothing about it! He took pot-shots at us hippies – saying we didn’t know how to conduct our events. I contacted his company to call him an arrogant tosser and he said I was a cheeky bitch; the blue touch paper had been lit!
We stayed in touch – messaging one another frequently – but didn’t meet face to face until a year later, in York. Our long-distance romance continued to blossom and life was great.
New Year 2008: I sprung a surprise visit on Martin at his place and, after welcoming me with open arms, he collapsed; at hospital, he was diagnosed with a brain tumour. Before his operation to remove the tumour – and having received permission from a court judge – we got married in the hospital not knowing what the outcome of the operation was going to be. Exchanging vows and cementing our relationship was all that mattered to both of us.
I left my life in Scotland immediately to be with Martin permanently and started to manage BLAZE with the intention of handing it back to him when he recovered. He’d developed seizures since the operation, as the tumour couldn’t be fully removed due its location, and that November he passed away. I was completely heartbroken. After I’d paid for the funeral, I had 27p left in my account.
I’ve been through many awful business-related challenges – betrayed by ex-team members who attempted to poach our clients, cheated out of money, trolled on social media and even physically stalked in an attempt to chase me away – but 11 years later I’m still here and as devoted as ever to continuing Martin’s legacy.
BLAZE helps organisations to raise an average of £500,000 every year in aid of charitable causes. My goal is push that amount to a million, which was Martin’s mission when he staged the world’s first ever fundraising firewalk 35 years ago.