Thursday, 19 June 2014

We made it!!

Greg and I completed the trek - just over 35km, across 5 days, at between 3500 and 3900m, in the magnificent Himalayan landscape of Ladakh. The trip exceeded every hope and expectation. The scenery was achingly beautiful and ever changing. The people of Ladakh took us into their communities and homes with great warmth. Our group gelled wonderfully, sharing moments of great emotion and forming friendships and memories that will last a life time. And though the trek was punishing at times, Greg and I both held up very well. We achieved our dream and all of us felt privileged to take part in something that felt very, very special.

The film and photo journal are going through post production and will be released around early August, I hope. Here are a few photos to whet the appetite.  These were taken by our mountain leader Alan Ward - stunning photos that show he is a man of many talents! But if you think these are good, just wait tip you sees what the film crew produce!  

Arriving in Leh with Viv, my therapist. We both felt the effects of the 3500m altitude - a slow first day!
Day 2 - a practice run, down the steep slope from Tsemo Gompa, Leh

Tsemo Gompa

Day 3 - we visited Stok, an hour's drive from Leh, and stumbled upon the village archery competition.

The road out of Leh (in the valley in the distance) towards the Nubra Valley, where we spent two more days acclimatising
Its a long, steep, winding 8 hour journey..

…with very little space..

… and no room for error
the road is part of the old Silk Route, which was once part of the "route to market" for Johnnie Walker! Here's Alan Ward, our mountain leader, with a photo op with our sponsor!!
the pass, Khardung La, is the highest motor able road in the world (open just a few months of the year)

Greg and me, at the top!

Its worth the journey…. Hundar in the Nubra Valley….

… where Angie, Viv, Greg and I took a camel ride across the sand dunes!

Diskit Gompa, one on the many spectacular monasteries perched precariously on the mountain sides

the trek…. in the most breathtakingly beautiful, awe inspiring landscape imaginable 

the group descending from one of the high passes, with Rigzin Tsewang,  our local guide, ahead of the ponies.  Rigzin took great care of us - thanks my friend!

Celebrating reaching one of the 4 high passes, with Mike Rogers our film director and Scott Woodward, our photographer

This is the big climb on the 5th day. To give the photo some scale, I've circled Mike and Scott in the middle ground and two French trekkers towards the top of the climb. From where Mike and Scott are, we descended the valley, to about 3500m and then climbed to the pass at just under 3900m

The climb took me around 1 hour. It was exhausting and exhilerating at the same time. Here I'm approaching the last swtch back before the final climb to the high pass. Just a few meters ahead from here, I found a rock to sit on to rest and enjoy the views. My words can't do the view justice, nor really describe my emotion - I found myself sitting there with pure joy and deep gratitude. This quote came to mind "He who stands upon the highest mountains laughs at any misfortune, real or imaginary". I laughed out loud!!! 

Greg and I complete the final stretch of this gruelling climb to the final high pass, topping out at 3850m. The path was not only long and steep but also very narrow and, in parts, very unstable under foot. It was a huge test for me....and I had the luxury of doing it forwards, using my walking poles and arms to support my legs. Greg climbed this sideways, using his arms only. That's when I really understood the immense physical and mental strength of my friend. Awesome!
at the finish line - after 35km, a moment of celebration, followed soon after by a lot of emotion
after the trek we took another 8 hour, high mountain pass trip to Pangong Lake, a 128km lake much of which is in China

…and yet again we were left speechless by the raw beauty

our last night by Pangong Lake, with a bonfire and Johnnie Walker to stave off the cold!

Wednesday, 28 May 2014

Greg, Angie and Alan have arrived in Leh. They say the weather is awesome - great news considering some of the weather forecasts have been predicting close to freezing!!

Viv and I start our journey tomorrow morning, and we reach Leh on Friday morning.

Greg, Angie, Viv and I have spent the last few months training at a high altitude simulation facility here inSingapore. Initially, I went there to get comfortable that I didn't face any specific risk caused by the damage to my neuro system. I got happy with that pretty quickly. Since then, and for Greg, Angie and Viv, the main aim has been to try to condition our bodies to hypoxia. We've all made good progress on that front. So, two big boxes ticked providing a great deal of comfort (for me, and I think the same for the others). And then, as the icing on the cake (excuse the pun), the gym installed an ice bath. I know my shiver reflex doesn't function well and the ice bath was a great opportunity to get myself prepared for the cooler temperatures (and see if I got any of the other recovery benefits its supposed to provide). Another box ticked. And I enjoyed it - bizarrely!

A big thanks to Stan Tan and the great team at Altitude for your support. See you all when we all get back.

Here's a few shots Viv took from our last session this morning.

The "Step Forward"

Last Friday night Gregory and I spoke to my colleagues in the Singapore office. That was our first time speaking together in public - we really enjoyed it, and it seemed to go down very well. To mark the occasion Johnnie Walker had a special cocktail made - the "Step Forward". How cool is that!

Thursday, 22 May 2014

“When your reality changes, your dreams don’t have to”

Marc Herremans is a Belgian triathlete. In 2001 he competed in the Ironman World Championship in Hawaii, widely regarded as the toughest triathlon competition in the world. He was expected to compete for one of the top three positions the following year. But in 2002, Marc fell off his bike during training, landed on rocks and broke his back. He was paralysed from his stomach to his feet. Only 3 months after the accident, Marc began training for the Ironman as a wheelchair athlete and, just 10 months after his accident, Marc participated in the Ironman of Hawaii. In 2006, he became the first wheelchair athlete to finish the Ironman of Hawaii!
Here is a film Marc made with Johnnie Walker. Very inspiring!

Wednesday, 21 May 2014

Viv - my stretching solution!

One of the lasting effects of spinal cord injury is excessive muscle tone, myofascial tightness and spasticity. No-one knows whether or when that will subside or go away and until it does managing it remains a big part of my daily life (twi...ce daily streching, good breathing, massage etc). Exercise can and does help, but over exertion can increase the tone. I live in a hot climate, but I know from trips to cold places that my shiver reflex doesn't function well and that can make the tone worse. In Ladakh, as well as keeping myself warm, I will need to stretch well before and after each day's trek. Fortunately, I'll have Viv Spanopoulos with me to help me out! I first met Viv many years ago at one of her yoga classes (she's kind of renowned here in Singapore, and has a big following). After my accident I went to see Viv, expecting a gentle re-introduction to yoga. Instead, she introduced me to a modality called Meridian Resistive Stretching, which targets the fascia and has crossovers with yoga, Traditional Chinese Medicine, and elements of psychology. Last year Viv had a spell in Boston, specialising in the system and has worked on me since she came back to Singapore in January. I'm lucky to have her coming along....and I know she'll be great fun in the group!

Tuesday, 20 May 2014

Our mountain leader

Meet our mountain leader, Alan Ward. This photo was taken in Ladakh back in February when Alan went out there to do a recce. Alan knows Ladakh, has a big focus on safety and, having led blind and partially sighted trekkers to Everest Base Camp, is experienced in leading groups of people with disabilities. Safety is paramount, and I feel we are in good hands!

Meet Angie Tan

I'm trekking with a very talented, creative bunch of people! Angie, Greg's wife, is a photographer. Here's a link to Angie's website. I won't be packing a camera!!

Up and running

Yeah! I'm up and running on the donations. Many, many thanks to Danny Walsh for getting us going.

You all know how much this matters to me, so please help in whatever way you can - donate, share the link to my donations page, spread the word, whatever you can. Cheers

Fundraising - Spinal Research and Wings for Life

I've set up a fundraising page with Virgin Money Giving. Here's the link.

Many of you donated very generously to my 10k fund raising just a few months ago and it does not feel right to ask those of you who did so to donate again. Instead, can I ask those friends to share this link with anyone who you feel might like to follow our journey and might wish to donate. Your support in doing that would be really appreciated.

This time I am raising funds for Wings for Life, as well as Spinal Research. Both charities share the goal to find a cure for paralysis.

For last December's fund raising I set an initial target of GBP 5,000 and ended up raising over GBP17,000! I honestly don't know what to aim for this time. I've gone for GBP20,000, which I hope isn't too ambitious!! Let's see!

Gregory Burns

Here's a link to Gregory's website. An amazing, inspirational guy. Great fun too!!

"I believe that rather than hindering my creative spirit, being stricken with polio challenged me to develop areas of my character that enhanced my message and communication skills. Speaking before international audiences of all sizes, I stress that we must learn to harness the setbacks in our lives which are what push us forward and bring us inner strength."


India's most remote and least populated region, Ladakh sits on the western edge of the Tibetan plateau, sandwiched between the Himalaya to the south and the Karakoram mountain range to the north With much of the region over 3,000m and the Himalaya blocking the monsoon clouds to create a high altitude desert, Ladakh is one of the highest and driest inhabited places on earth.

Ladakh is renowned for its spectacular mountain beauty and rich culture. It has strong cultural and geographical similarities with Tibet, and is sometimes called 'Little Tibet'. I found this link, which gives you an idea of what we have to look forward to.

Sunday, 18 May 2014

Ladakh trek - Paul Fairhurst and Gregory Burns

Today I've launched a Facebook page for my next challenge - a 35km high altitude trek  in the remote, spectacularly beautiful Indian province of Ladakh, with my friend Gregory Burns a paralympic athlete, internationally recognised artist and motivational speaker.

Here's a link to the Facebook page and my first post: 

I’m a walking quadriplegic. In June 2011 a cycling accident left me with a C5/6/7 spinal cord injury - paralysed and with almost no sensation from the shoulders down. From the moment I regained consciousness I’ve held a passionate belief that I would recover. I’ve been left with excessive muscle tone and spasticity and constant neuropathic pain. But I can walk and I am fully functional and independent. I know that most people with this injury never walk again and many face a lifetime of serious medical complications. I know I’m very lucky, and I’m very grateful.

I have this very strong sense that opportunity lies ahead of me, and that motivates me to keep pushing myself forward. In December last year I completed a 10km walk and raised over £17,000 for research into a cure for paralysis. Now I am taking on my next challenge – a 35km, 5 day trek at high altitude, in the remote, spectacularly beautiful Indian province of Ladakh.

If you’re going to take on a really big test of physical and mental strength, who better to have alongside you for inspiration than an Olympian!

I met Gregory Burns a year ago. Gregory contracted polio as a young child, which required him to depend on leg braces and forearm crutches for mobility.  Rather than being hindered by his paralysis, Gregory harnessed it to develop his character, inner strength and creative spirit. A three time Paralympian, he set four world records and captured half a dozen medals. He is an internationally recognized painter, a motivational speaker and artist. And, I’ve found, he’s good at sowing crazy ideas for big challenges.

Very soon after we met, the idea surfaced that Gregory and I should do something together. Eventually, that something became this trek, and after months of planning, we are very nearly ready to go.

I work for Diageo, the Johnnie Walker brand owner. The Johnnie Walker brand values are all about personal progress, and its “Keep Walking” tagline is world famous. The connections between the brand and what Gregory and I strive to do kind of hit you hard between the eyes and within no time Johnnie Walker came enthusiastically on board to sponsor the trek. A photo blog and short documentary will be published on Johnnie Walker social media platforms, and we are all very excited about that!

Joining us on the trek will be Gregory’s wife Angie Tan; my therapist Viv Spanopoulos; our mountain leader Alan Ward; the film director Mike Rogers and photographer Scott Woodward; and a local team of mountain guides, ponymen and cooks.

We all have many hopes and expectations. Amongst mine is the hope that through this journey I can help to raise the profile of the efforts to find a cure for paralysis. I will be raising funds for two charities who are at the forefront of those efforts: Spinal Research and Wings for Life.

Wednesday, 5 March 2014

It's definitely working (whatever it is) !!!

Over the last 5 weeks there has been a significant acceleration in my progress. Why? I can't be sure, but it coincides with me:
- re-starting meridian resistive stretching with Viv Spanopoulos (who's returned from Boston to Singapore for a few months)
- switching my meds (off Baclofen, onto Norgesic, which is a mix of paracetemol and a skeletal muscle relaxant - midler than Baclofen, which left me sluggish, but for seemingly good effects)
- continuing on with the great work with Swee, who continues to help me mix it up to increase my range and speed of movement and response and improve stability and control
- also continuing to see Elaine every 3 weeks or so for her fantastic physio/ bodywork,  whilst still finding benefits from the trauma release and other exercises she gets me to do.

Swee and Viv have both noticed it. Others have too. Here's the evidence - this is just a small selection from a long list of firsts and bests over the last couple of months!

This is from just before Christmas……

Last week, I did lots of work on slopes, including a traverse across a 45 degree incline - I'll explain what that's all about soon (some very exciting news to come)

And this morning, there was all sorts of stuff going on……. first time doing this step/jump/ land exercise

….. better jack knifes than before (much better)…..

….. this was really hard work, and you can see how I fight against the tone, but I manage to relax out of it (which is something I could not do until a couple of weeks ago)…..

….. Swee always finds a way to add a level of difficulty……. 

…. but having said that, this exercise was nearly impossible just a few months back (my next improvement is to keep the ball behind my head)…..

…. and this was new - the first set was better than this one, but even in this one I have a level of stability and control I did not have before….

And all that was followed by 20 minutes of interval training on the spin bike!! 

So, all going really, really well right now. Whatever we are doing, it's definitely working. Long may it continue!!  

Saturday, 15 February 2014

An awesome result!

Pretty much all donations are in now, I think, and so the time has come to wrap up the 10K fund raising. We end at a whopping £17,010 - a truly fabulous result which makes me, and all who donated too I hope, very proud indeed. Thanks from me, and on behalf of Spinal Research.