Ewood Park provided the finishing line for a marathon charity effort from former Rovers youngster Josh Askew.

Askew completed his 10th half marathon of April at Rovers’ headquarters to raise funds for the British Heart Foundation.

The 23-year-old spent nine years as part of the club’s youth system where he played alongside Lewis Hardcastle who was forced to retire from professional football due to a heart condition.

Askew took it upon himself to raise funds for the charity by running a half marathon every three days in April in a show of support for his friend and former team-mate, raising £3,500 in the process.

The 10th and final run took Askew, now plying his trade at Chester, from Rovers’ Academy training base in Brockhall Village to Ewood Park, with a few laps around the pitch for good measure to help complete the epic challenge.

Hardcastle graduated through Rovers’ Academy before leaving for Barrow AFC in 2019 where he would become part of their historic promotion-winning side as they secured a return back to the Football League, only to be forced to retire upon medical advice.

After completing his challenge, Askew said: “It’s been really tough and really emotional.

“Ten half marathons in 30 days, I never thought I’d ever do that, but I’m so grateful that I have because the support that I’ve received, the support that the British Heart Foundation has received and the support that Lewis has received it’s been completely worth it.

“It’s been worth the blood, sweat and tears. It has been the toughest challenge I’ve ever done, but completely worth it.

“The support I’ve had has been amazing. The amount of people that have jumped on board and helped me out, I can’t thank everybody enough. I never thought it would get this big and yet I’m so grateful that it has.”

Hardcastle, aged 22, announced his retirement after being diagnosed with Arrhythmogenic Right Ventricular Cardiomyopathy (ARVC).

The midfielder captained Rovers Under-23s to the Premier League 2 Division Two title under Damien Johnson in 2017/18, playing 64 times for the Academy side during his time at the club. He spent time with Port Vale on loan before a move to Barrow in February 2019, helping the club to the National League title, captaining the club for a spell.

He took the decision to retire after scans revealed the condition, with Hardcastle having begun to feel faint during training sessions.

Askew said it was Hardcastle’s story that helped him through the challenge of running 10 half marathons.

“Lewis has been at the forefront of my thoughts on every single run. When it starts getting tough, a half-marathon is a fair distance to run, especially when you’re doing one every three days, you’ve got to remind yourself exactly what you’re running for,” he said.

“When you know what Lewis has gone through, and is currently going through, you’d never stop running! I just want to wish him and his family all the very best, and I’m really grateful that I got this opportunity and for all the support that I’ve received.

“I’d like to think that the story through it all is that in such tragic circumstances, there’s always positives and there’s always support at the end of it, and if you can find the positives out of negative situations then you’re doing something right.”  

To help support the cause, visit www.justgiving.com/fundraising/josh-askew2