On the 1st October 2018, I will be attempting to abseil 110 feet or 34 metres into Lancaster Hole, along with my wife Liz and my little girls, Lilly age 6 and Poppy age 5. The pot hole is accessed by a small, narrow opening (basically a man hole) on Casterton Fell. This leads to Ease Gill, the longest and most complex cave system in Britain, spanning 3 counties and boosting 41 miles of passages and some spectacular underground scenery.
In November 2012 I was diagnosed with Fabry Disease, a rare life limiting condition that leads to global organ failure. 9 months later in August 2013, I was also diagnosed with Motor Neurone Disease, a terminal illness that causes muscle wastage, paralysis and eventually death, usually in 2-5 years from diagnosis.
After getting over the initial shock, I decided that I was going to carry on living a full and active life for as long as I could and make the most of every minute that I had left. After all I have a lot to live for; a beautiful wife and 2 gorgeous little girls.
I've always been a bit of an adrenaline junkie and loved anything fast, cars, motorbikes skiing etc. I lost the ability to walk independently almost 3 years ago. I am now confined to a wheelchair and need round the clock care. But, I'm not going to let a little thing like that stop me. Since my diagnosis, I have completed the longest zip wire in Europe and the fastest in the world, climbed Mount Snowdon in a wheelchair and abseiled off the Humber Bridge, all for charity! I am determined to show people that having a terminal diagnosis and being severely disabled isn't a barrier to enjoying life and helping others.
Last year we were fortunate enough to be able to visit the Bendrigg Trust in Cumbria, courtesy of the Masonic Charitable Foundation. The MCF had awarded a £40,000 grant to Bendrigg to allow them to purchase ceiling track hoists for their new residential facility, Acorn House. They wanted somebody who needed hoisting and had an adventurous streak to check the new facilities out and I was delighted to be their guinea pig!
Our family had such a fantastic time there that we would like to be able to raise enough money for another family affected by severe disability to be able to go and enjoy their own, fully inclusive adventure.
We will be donating a small portion of the money to the Red Rose Caving Club. This will enable them to make improvements to their disabled access and toilet facilities so that other people with disabilities can participate in caving.
That's why I am asking for your support, so please donate. Any amount, no matter how small will be sincerely appreciated.
So what will this challenge involve and how will it be achieved?
Our journey will begin at Bullpot Farm, the home of the Red Rose Caving Club, who will be helping to facilitate the challenge. From there we will be travelling on foot to Lancaster Hole, where the adventure will begin in earnest. Of course I am unable to walk so I will be completing the journey in my all terrain wheelchair.
once we arrive, I will be strapped in to a paragliding harness, hoisted out of my wheelchair and lowered into the mouth of the pot hole. There is a squeeze or narrow part at the entrance of the pot before the shaft opens out in to a larger passage. I will have to be pulled in to a vertical position from below, in order to fit through the squeeze. I will then be transferred to another rope which will allow me to free abseil and control my decent via one finger. As I approach the bottom I will be swung across the cave, approximately 15 - 20 m and (with any luck) land on a ledge. From there I will be transferred into a harness and hopefully will travel to the colonnades, a room filled with spectacular stalactites and stalagmites. Liz and the girls will follow.
Of course all this would be challenging for an able bodied person, especially one with no caving experience and a dislike of small spaces and the dark! But for a person who is virtually paralysed it will be challenging on a whole level and push the boundaries to the extreme!
The whole event will be captured on film and be available on the BBC news and on social media. Hopefully this will raise much need awareness of Motor Neurone Disease and disability in general.
Bendrigg Trust challenges perceptions of disabled people through adventurous activities. Just £40 can support a person with a disability to try climbing for the first time and start to believe in what they can do, rather than what they think they can't. At Bendrigg we help people take part in activities they never dreamt possible due to their disability or social disadvantage. Thank you for helping to make dreams a reality and to allow everyone to achieve through adventure.