Eleven years after my accident, it still takes me a bit of time to get going in the mornings, and I’ve got constant pain due to muscle imbalance, so I wasn’t the typical candidate to climb Mount Kilimanjaro.
I’d been getting stronger, though, and wanted to give something back to the Rugby Players’ Association (RPA), who had looked after and supported me and my family for so long. At the RPA’s annual dinner 13 months ago, David Barnes (the RPA chairman) and Tim Nicholls (their Head of Player Development) were talking about this trip, which was in its embryonic stages, and after a couple of drinks I said, “I could do that!”
At the time I don’t think I could have walked a mile. But I thought ‘Why not just go for it?’, and threw myself into the training. I got up religiously Monday to Friday at 6.20am. I’d been going to the gym but there was no end product like there is with a match, so having that carrot at the end was a mad motivating factor. Knowing I was going to be with other people, the last thing I wanted was to turn up undercooked, unable to do it, and slow people down. I would have felt horrific.
I was fairly shy on the first night. Everyone had a few beers whereas I just had a couple and went to bed. I was just so nervous of letting anyone down. Being a ball and chain on everyone’s leg would have been a nightmare for me.
We were split into groups of six but we mixed up, so on different days you’d walk with different people. Everyone was jolly on the first night because we weren’t too tired. The next night you’re a lot higher, so you get to camp and just want your food and to crash out. After that it’s just eat, walk, sleep. Once you’re above cloud level the temperature plummets at night. It ranged from 35° at the bottom to -15° at the top.
Unfortunately I had to share a tent with Barnsey. There were lots of pungent aromas after seven days of no showering and living with a prop, and he kept trying to get closer to me at night! He was also up every hour and a half to go for a pee! The mattresses weren’t bad but a lot of the time there were rocks underneath you, though at times that became secondary to just how tired you were. I didn’t sleep well for the whole trip but that’s nothing new.
We set off at midnight for the summit push, and I arrived at 8.15am. At the top I put my head in my hands and slumped into a bit of a heap and had a blub. I couldn’t speak, most people welled up, and there was a good bit of man-hugging!
That first shower was the greatest shower I’ve ever had. It was up there with the first shower I had in hospital after I broke my neck, after five months of bed baths, but it was better, because I had more feeling.
I can’t believe I’ve actually climbed Mount Kilimanjaro. If someone had suggested it a few years ago I’d have laughed. I’m now going to move to Holland, or somewhere where there are no hills! This is the best I’ve felt since I hurt myself, and I’m grateful to AXA Wealth for sponsoring my trip. I’m game for the next one, I’ve got the bug now!
This article appeared in the August 2011 issue of Rugby World Magazine.
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