Some might say you can't just ask for things and expect to get them; the same people that will try to quash ambition, their expectations of you and life are very little. That used to be me; I used to ask myself things and would put the answer off for myself, to protect me, to help me.
It's not about me anymore; I did make a decision about my illness and about trying to be more than just me, more than what I expect of myself and what others expect of me too. I always wanted to be happy and to be an adventurer so that's what I decided to be and the best part was that I was going to take some of you with me too, to be selfless is a wonderful thing, and sometimes you don't really have to try too hard at all.
Every year I have given myself a challenge to help towards funding research into my condition, not for me but for others that may receive a diagnosis. Every year the challenge has got bigger because I exceed what I thought I might in the previous year, with so much help from family and friends I have done many great things for the greater good, beyond what I ever thought possible.
It is a tradition of mine to announce my new plan for the year on the 1st of January every year, usually lunch time.
2017 was no different and I had been planning behind the scenes way before this point, it's always this way.
"This year I plan to take a team to the top of a mountain!"
WHAT?! What are you thinking, there are able bodied people in this world that wouldn't even try this, you must be mad.
Thing is, is this... I had seen lots of pictures of Mount Snowdon and it looked nice so that's what I chose. As it sunk in and people around me actually started taking me seriously they offered to join me, the usual suspects from all over England. My Leeds mates were in, "you're a soppy sod but count us in", my mate Dean was flabbergasted because it would mean he would have to thin out and get fit, a bit. Our eldest daughter; Lucie lovingly rolled her eyes and said "S'pose I'll have to get some new boots". We were on our way and my confidence was rising as more and more people signed up for our challenge.
Within the first week I had hit £600 on my fundraising page, within a month I hit £1000 and with this came great responsibility, there was no backing out and I was more than committed and with that came trepidation and panic.
The majority of the route planning and actual movement up the mountain was being taken care of by our guide; James. I worked with James and he also worked in lowland rescue and had also scaled Snowdon many times. I had no need to worry there then. My family and friends were extremely positive and enthusiastic but as the months went on something was keeping me up at night, an anxiety was scratching at the inside of my chest, shortening my breath when I wasn't even moving.
Occasionally I would be reminded that I was weak and I had a degenerative condition. I would fall, dislocate things, pull ligaments and not be able to get back up again. Sometimes, as much as I tried, mind over matter was not enough. The harsh reality of my condition was also an eye opener of why I actually need to get this team to the top. I never wanted anyone else to go through what my family go through on a daily basis; my condition affects all those around me. My disability is not just mine; it’s my families, my friends and my colleagues too.
It was never all about me though and those that had volunteered didn't think it was about them either, they thought they were coming with me to help me but I was actually trying to help them, to prove to them also that we can all achieve more than what we ever think we can, to take ourselves way out of our comfort zone physically and mentally.
The months moved rapidly this year and we were soon down to counting weeks and then on a Monday in May everything changed. I was sat in my office at work and a surge of fear swept over me, I was riddled with anxiety and the worst thoughts and fears I could ever imagine. My arms and legs were electric with pins and needles, my heart was thumping out of my chest, I thought that I had forgotten how to breathe and I felt like I would never be happy again. Luckily a first aider was near me and together we made our way to a quiet area to try to get some composure, calm and try to reset whatever was going on in my head. I went straight to my Doctors surgery and I sat there for hours until I could be seen, I described what had happened at work and there was a member of the mental health team on site who also listened to what I had to say. The diagnosis was a panic attack which I have never experienced before, I was advised to simply stop all my plans, this was my mind telling me it didn’t like the idea of putting myself through this. So there it was my choice was to stop what I was doing or make myself ill, Snowdon was far too ambitious.
I pondered on what to do and still feeling some panic inside I called a good friend of mine, I didn’t want to talk about this at home but I desperately needed to confide in someone for some sound advice. That was the best decision of the year, the best thing I could have done. My anonymous friend also told me to cut my ambition “Just keep telling yourself that you’re just going for a walk in North Wales, no more, no less, if you go upwards then that will be a bonus, as soon as you’ve stepped foot on the Llanberis path then you would have done more than most”. That was my tonic, that was the medicine that took the panic away, besides, it never was about me getting to the top, it was about me convincing a team to get to the top, to help me to help others. I’ll never forget that phone call, and I’ll never be able to thank that friend enough.
I thoroughly enjoyed our run up to the day apart from the week before as our team numbers were rising and I was trying to make sure over 40 people were all ok and everything was checked, safety was paramount and I wanted to make sure I had helped everyone in our team as much as possible, after all I had my daughters, god children and nieces to think of too!
We arrived at our base camp on the Friday evening after a gruelling six and half hours’ drive but the welcome was warm and the beer was cold, I couldn’t do anymore, everyone was here, everyone was equipped and smiles were in abundance. For the first time in six months I felt comfortable, what will be, will be.
We woke up on Saturday 1st of July and this was it, time to fuel up and get out to meet everyone. I tried my best to eat as much breakfast as I could but everything was tasteless and my mind was elsewhere, I just wanted to go and before we knew it we were in the cars and on our way to meet everyone else. It's 08:30 and the car park in Llanberis was already half full.
So many beautiful faces were there and I felt very lucky, secure knowing that everyone here was here for the same reason as me, to take on this challenge, to support each other and to try to make a difference for others. All of this goes back to my first paragraph here, people turned up because I asked them to or in some cases I didn't need to. The people here didn't want a lay in, they didn't want to sit in and watch Saturday morning TV, we were all adventurers at least just for one day!
We had to split the group up into three separate groups and slowly but surely we made our way with lots of nervous energy as our catalyst, our fuel to stoke the fire in our bellies. Our chosen path was known as 'The Motorway' for getting up Snowdon and I could see why, it was such a busy path with lots of people moving at different speeds and indeed different ways. We saw competitive runners, morning joggers, a team of people tied together, teams of people lifting occupied wheelchairs and even a unicyclist! (Who just kept falling off!)
I had an expectation of myself, I knew this was going to hurt I just didn't know where and when. Well it was immediately and everywhere below my chest. My lower back ached because my muscles are like marshmallows and they just can't support me. My thighs were burning to compensate my non-existent hamstrings and my calf muscles and feet were pinging with pain, white hot stabbing pain.
I always said I wanted to get to the top of this mountain by hook or by crook, by any means possible and I couldn't help but lean on people, those around me became bannisters up a mountain like bannisters up our stairway. Nobody objected to helping me when I really needed them and they took it in turns too, without being asked or prompted. I was so proud of this team, I cannot tell you this enough because we all felt shattered as we were hitting two hours of climbing. All the while we laughed and told stories, fell over, laughed some more, cried a little, and laughed once again.
|Brothers In Arms|
This challenge was relentless, the surface was really taking its toll on my toes, they kept locking up and cramping, giving me a surging pain in my achilles heel too. The rest stops were becoming more frequent and I started to feel like a burden on the group. I was becoming beyond exhausted, at a point where we had to think about safety, the group kept going, the summit was insight.
I wanted to get a group of 30 people to the top of Mount Snowdon; I wanted to prove to everyone who was willing to come along that we would make memories forever, for all of us to keep. There was more than 40 of us that got to the top and all I saw was smiles, that's all I ever wanted to see, my family and friends on top of a mountain, taking lots of pictures, smiling, cuddling, feeling overwhelmed and extremely happy.
|Time to celebrate!|
Snowdon was one of the best days of my life and one of the worst. Best because of what I've just written above and worst because it was the biggest pain I had ever felt, a whole new level of enduring pain, pain where I never thought pain could get to! It was all worth it in the end though. We had some amazing donations and the Friday night before our climb my friend and fellow Leeds fan; Gary donated his work bonus to hit my target. It didn't stop with Gary though the donations kept pouring on to our Just Giving page and we soon hit £9000.
We’re on our way now you see, we are getting where we need to be. our page is nearly at £10,000 and that means hope with funds raised paying for World class research into these devastating conditions. We are laying foundations, giving scientists stepping stones to progress and treatments. None of this would have been possible without friendship and compassion; we all need friendship even more so as we grow older or less abled than we were the year before.
I never take a day for granted, since my diagnosis every day has been a fresh start and an opportunity for adventure, an opportunity to tell my story, to use my breaking body as a vehicle of awareness to try to help others. When I was told I was ill I was angry, pent up furious anger that helped nobody, I would have asked myself why me, why did this happen to me?! Now I ask myself why not me? I have this rather large mouth, the ability to communicate with others like I'm doing right now as you're reading this, I'm a very lucky man to live the life that I do.
I believe that everyone should try to help somebody else if you have that chance, be selfless even if it's just for one day a year.
Life moves fast, be nice, make the most of it and above all else, enjoy yourself, it's later than you think.
Our day in Pictures... https://flipagram.com/f/1BV7zk1AwVX