Sally Orange

Veteran, mental health champion and SSAFA fundraiser.

Former Army Major, Sally Orange MBE has raised over £10,000 for SSAFA through a series of fundraising challenges including running 100 kilometres across the Gobi Desert in Mongolia. Despite the furious 50-degree heat, she took on the challenge dressed as an orange to raise awareness of the charity and mental health in the Forces. She became a real life ‘Jaffa for SSAFA’.

Following 22 years in the military, Sally was medically discharged due to severe depression and anxiety. For years she has been determined to spread the message about mental health to help others in the military talk and cope when they are suffering. But with several Guinness World Records to her name (including fastest marathon dressed as a piece of fruit and another for dressing as a nut!) nothing Sally does is usual. After a chance meeting with SSAFA Controller Sir Andrew Gregory at a garden party at Buckingham Palace, she devised her next big challenge.

“I don’t know why, but straight away I thought ‘ahh I could be a Jaffa for SSAFA’. It was as simple as that.” Sally said. “I like doing things differently, especially when it’s for a great cause.

“It was one of the toughest challenges I had ever attempted because of the heat and terrain, but when it got tough, I thought back to the time when I was most unwell and knew it wasn’t as bad as that.”

It’s just a light-hearted way of talking about a difficult subject.

The Gobi Desert challenge is just one of many fantastic endeavours Sally has taken on to raise awareness of mental health and break down barriers around the subject.

“When I’m at a marathon with thousands of other people present, I’m often the only person dressed as a piece of fruit and people ask me… why? It’s a great conversation starter and I can get talking to them about my bid to raise awareness of the difficulties surrounding mental ill health. More times than not, people will tell me that they also suffer or someone close to them does. It’s a light-hearted way of starting a conversation talking about what people perceive to be a difficult topic.

“When I’m running as fruit, I smile – and it makes others smile when the see me, be that other runners or spectators. I’ll hear kids shouting ‘Mummy, look there’s a strawberry running by!.’ I don’t run competitively, but I have a purpose and that is to connect with people and share the message.”

With all my challenges I don’t go for time, instead I go for the time of my life!

Sally’s mission is deeply personal due to what she has been through in her own life.

“It’s taken me a long time to be able to talk about it, but there have been many times in my life where I haven’t wanted to be alive. I’ve suffered for many years but kept it between the doctor and myself.

“Some people assume that because I went to Afghanistan and treated some seriously wounded people working in the hospital that my problems are linked to that. Although I constantly beat myself up about feeling I haven’t always been able to do enough for my patients, the truth is, that that was one of the best times in my military career. It was a time I felt a real sense of self-worth and had a purpose and felt that I was able to make a difference.

"Leaving Afghanistan, however, was tough for me. I didn’t want to go back to my reality, and often wish I had lost my life there. In my mind it would have been a kindness to my family. I wouldn’t be a constant burden to them, but they would be spared of any guilt or blame that would probably occur if I took my own life.

“Those thoughts are with me still, and I have to manage them almost daily. I have learnt to talk and get help.”

We still have a long way to go though, that is why I do what I do.

Though Sally has put measures in place to help her cope with her own struggles, she has friends and colleagues who were not helped in time, and tragically took their own lives.

“I have a real understanding of how difficult mental illness can be and I want to get it to a point where it’s as normal to speak about as a common cold. We all struggle psychologically from time to time, as it’s part and parcel of being a human being.

“There is no stigma attached to someone saying that they aren’t feeling great due to a cold. They may need to take some time off work to rest and then they are soon back on track again. I’d like to see it get to a point where mental health challenges are viewed in the same way. Like with a physical illness, if help is sought early, it is often prevented from getting any worse.

“Currently there is still too much taboo and so people feel unable to talk openly and freely how they are feeling. Things are changing slowly, but I still believe we have a long way to go. That is why I do what I do.”

To inspire, to achieve.

Since being medically discharged, Sally has been appointed as the first and only female National ambassador for the Army Cadet Force (ACF) and continues to push herself.

“I now feel a massive responsibility to share this message with young people through the spirit of adventure. The ACF motto is ‘to inspire, to achieve’, and that is what I aspire to do.

“I have many plans in the pipeline as I believe there is still a large job to be done to be able to get the message across and I am taking it on one crazy challenge at a time.”

I am incredibly proud of what I have achieved over the years when I look back at what I have overcome.

Since 2018, Sally has continued to raise money for SSAFA through various challenges and events in which she aims to break the stigma on mental health and support members of the Armed Forces.

She is an award-winning multiple world record holder and has run over 80 marathons, (including the World Marathon Challenge of 7 marathons on 7 continents in 7 consecutive days), completed 8 full Ironman triathlons, and cycled the length of the UK and New Zealand. She has been recognised for her outstanding work and honoured on several occasions, receiving the Prime Minister’s Points of Light Award (2020), the Inspiration and Sporting Excellence Awards at the 2020 and 2022 Soldiering On Awards, and an honorary doctorate from the University of Nottingham in 2022. To date, she has raised more than £800,000 for over 50 charities, including SSAFA, with whom she remains close.

“As well as running seven marathons on seven continents in seven consecutive days for SSAFA earlier this year, I really enjoyed taking on the London Marathon dressed as a cream cracker! I did this because I ‘really am crackers about mental health!’ The outfit caught the BBC presenter’s eye, and it was fantastic to be interviewed on national TV about a mission I’m so passionate about and see the SSAFA logo clearly displayed at the same time.”

In June 2023, Sally was recognised in the King’s first Birthday Honours list as a Member of the British Empire, for services to charity and mental health. Shortly after, she completed the 13 Bridges Challenge with SSAFA. She is as committed to her mission as ever.

“I’ve spent the last 30 years volunteering and 16 years fundraising and really, they are my hobbies that give me a real sense of satisfaction. I never dreamt someone like me would be announced in the honours system, but I am incredibly proud of what I have achieved over the years when I look back at what I have overcome.

“SSAFA is particularly close to my heart as I know from my own experience what it feels like to be rock bottom and I hate to think of others feeling the same way. It’s because of this that I will do anything possible to help others. I hope that I can demonstrate that there is light at the end of the tunnel even though if it isn’t always obvious.”