A Scottish cancer survivor has become the world’s first ‘turbine bagger’ after walking thousands and thousands of steps to tick off all 215 wind turbines at the UK’s largest onshore windfarm – ScottishPower Renewables’ Whitelee Windfarm – as part of her recovery.
Michele Lennox (55) from Giffnock says Whitelee and her turbine bagging challenge gave her the will to live and hopes she can inspire others to see past their cancer diagnosis to a positive future.
It was in January 2020 that Michele was diagnosed with ovarian cancer after a routine visit to her doctor. A full hysterectomy followed, leaving her extremely weak and unwell and unable to get around – she couldn’t even walk down the stairs at home.
As she began her recovery, the world went into lockdown, so – like everyone else – she made the move outdoors and started to build up her body strength and walking distances. On New Year’s Day 2021, Michele decided to walk at Whitelee Windfarm, which she thought would provide suitable space and social distancing.
Accompanied by her friend Iain, she noticed the turbines were numbered, had the idea to try to walk to them all and the Whitelee Windmill Baggers group and turbine challenge were born.
With 130km of tracks and 215 turbines to cover, taking on the challenge wasn’t as simple as it sounds and extensive planning and research was required – even to identify the best starting point and what clothing would be needed.
Over the next twelve months, Michele and her friends braved all weathers – sun, snow, wind, rain and sometimes all four on the same day – to complete the challenge. To keep track of progress, she set up a Facebook group and recorded every turbine bagged on a spreadsheet, finishing up on 27 December 2021 – making her the world’s first turbine bagger!
Michele said: “Cancer is a secret and silent disease – and I had seen what having stomach cancer did to my dad, who died just three months after his diagnosis. That was all I could think about at the start – and it took me two years to get out of that mindset.
“I would never have thought that this challenge – for which I had to buy my first-ever first pair of walking boots! – would be what helped give me the will to live. It was only after I had bagged all 215 turbines at Whitelee that I could actually convince myself that maybe I wasn’t going to die.
“Whitelee was the perfect place and really gave me the motivation, drive and determination to keep going and I’ll be forever grateful for what it did for me, my recovery and my mental health. It was an absolutely brilliant experience and I couldn’t have done it with a better group of people, who made it so fun and memorable.
“That support – at one of the most difficult times in my life – was incredible and really brought everyone together. I wouldn’t be where I am today – an avid walker with three pairs of walking boots! – if it wasn’t for my family, friends and Whitelee.”
Michele’s daughter Amber said: "I couldn't believe when mum told me the distances involved – I thought she must have got the numbers wrong. But that's mum – she's always been a force of nature, and she doesn't let anything stop her once she sets her mind to something. People would ask me if she was managing to get out the house, and I'd say you couldn't keep her inside if you tried! We're all so proud of her for everything she's done, and can't state enough how strong her spirit is. I have no doubt her next quest will be even more impressive than this one."
Iain MacMillan accompanied Michele on her challenge. He added: “We motivated each other and worked as a team. On some days it was nightfall by the time we got back, and I was worried whether Michele was physically capable of the task or was over-extending herself, but she just kept going. On occasions, it was like four seasons in one day, but the view was always inspirational and we kept the end in sight.”
Barry Carruthers, ScottishPower Renewables’ Managing Director for Onshore, was ‘blown away’ by Michele’s achievements: “Whitelee is obviously a great source of homegrown green electricity, but as showcased by Michele’s efforts, it’s not just the UK’s biggest onshore windfarm – it’s a fantastic and much-loved outdoor location visited by around a quarter of a million people a year.
“However, no one has taken on Whitelee quite like Michele. Getting up close on foot to each and every one of the 215 turbines on site means she now knows Whitelee in a way that even our teams working on site don’t!
“Colleagues who keep the turbines turning and producing green electricity all year round rely on vehicles to move across the site because of Whitelee’s size and scale, which just highlights the enormity of what Michele has achieved to become the world’s first turbine bagger.
“This was definitely not a challenge for the faint-hearted and Michele is a real inspiration and an absolute legend. To hear what Whitelee meant to her and how it supported her recovery is just so humbling and we’re blown away by what she has achieved and incredibly proud to play a part in her story. She will always have a special place in Whitelee history, both now and as we continue to work towards a clean energy future.”