When Ronnie O'Sullivan Walked Out On Stephen Hendry | 2006 UK Championship Quarter Final

Rob Walker’s Absent Friends Tour

Our Master of Ceremonies is cycling 1,000 miles from John O’Groats to Land’s End next month. Here, in his own words, he explains why…

CLICK HERE for Rob’s Just Giving page where you can donate to two amazing charities

Losing a good friend or close relative can have a profound effect on anyone and I’m no different.

Losing three of my mates and one of my nine-year-old son’s best friends within the last two years has left me with a heightened appreciation of life, love and the determination to focus on the beauty of the simplest pleasures. Like a run down a country lane with nothing but the sound of birds and bees on your ear.

Running, athletics and snooker have defined my life for more than 40 years and after losing Robin, Martyn, Stephen and little George and speaking at all their funerals, I decided to set myself a challenge and raise a few quid for two brilliant charities.

That’s why on June 5th I will set off from John O’Groats to Land’s End, covering more than 1,000 miles by cycling and running the length of this beautiful country in what I hope will be a thoroughly uplifting 19 days, finishing in Cornwall on June 23rd.

Along the way I intend to spread some joy and encourage people to toast my friends while remembering  theirs by giving out four bottles of champagne a day in memory of each of the four I’m doing it for.

I’m buying the bottles with my own money which people may think is a bit mad. But I’ve started doing random acts of kindness over the last year or so and those no-strings-attached gestures really seem to resonate with people.

In part I think it must be my way of channelling the grief into something positive.

I am also a firm believer that if life has smiled on you, there is a moral obligation to act with humility and generosity.

Ever since watching the inaugural World Athletics Championships in Helsinki in 1983 I knew I wanted to either run the 1,500m for Great Britain at the Olympics, or be the man in the stadium talking about it.

Two years later, having been given a mini Steve Davis snooker table for Christmas in 1984, I sat and watched the World Championship final in 1985 and was transfixed. I knew I wasn’t as good a snooker player as I was a runner, but my Dad and I subsequently spent many an hour playing on a full sized table in the Abingdon Leisure Centre called the Old Gaol. I remember those afternoons with immense fondness, they left an indelible mark on my childhood.

Thanks to a series of strokes of luck, some hard work and a lot of passion, four decades later I find myself as the lead International Athletics commentator at every World Championships and Olympic Games and the BBC’s established snooker MC and ITV’s snooker reporter.

Even though I’ve covered every Olympics since 2004 and every World Snooker Championship since 2008, I still have to pinch myself sometimes and when I’m on the mic in those athletics stadiums and snooker arenas, I feel an electricity which is hard to describe.

Commentating on athletics regularly to an international audience has also led to some amazing friendships, connections and trips abroad, especially around East Africa. It’s a part of the continent I love and the time I’ve spent in Ethiopia, Kenya and Uganda has been incredible.

For the latter I’m now an official sports tourism ambassador and as such everyone who donates to the Just Giving Absent Friends Tour will be entered into a prize draw to win an all expenses paid trip to Uganda to trek with Mountain Gorillas. An amazing experience I can tell you first hand after a recent trip there in February this year.

It’s a trip my four friends would have loved. As is this Absent Friends Tour.

Robin died 18 months before what would have been a brilliant 50th birthday. Martyn (45) and George (9)  both died suddenly in their sleep with no warning and Stephen (53) fought a brain tumour for more than a decade with the heart of a lion.

Raising £25,000 for the Jessie May Children’s Hospice at Home and the Brain Tumour charity won’t bring any of them back. Neither will giving away a free holiday to Uganda or handing out 76 bottles of champagne to strangers.

But it will put some smiles on faces – including mine. And as Morgan Freeman so memorably puts it at the end of The Shawshank Redemption: “Get busy living or get busy dying. That’s goddamn right.”