September two years ago, I set about climbing The Gherkin (30 St Mary Axe) in the form of a relay climb at Calshot Activity Wall … My climbing partner did it too, he had a harder challenge I feel, as he took it on wearing a blindfold. Together we set out to climb the 180m (591ft) between us, but having done that within 3 hours, we upped it to challenge ourselves further and finished 5 hours later; just before the wall closed for the night having climbed the height EACH.
It has been an odd time since then, I have trained with my now working guide dog Fizz, moved house and discovered that my hearing is failing me along with my sight.
My climbing style has changed and these last few months I have found myself thrilled by the enjoyment of competing and moving my climbing forward to include bouldering and it just top-roping.
This leads me into my next challenge. In December I shall compete in the final heat for the Team GB Paraclimbing team, which is no mean feet, and most definitely not something I would have dreamt was possible just six months ago. It was through contact with The Molly Watt Trust, a charity that supports those with Ushers Syndrome that I made contact with John Churcher, a fellow climber who has both a visual impairment and a hearing impairment, who just happens to have been on the GB team for several years.
Molly Watt (an inspirational young woman) has done lots of work with and around raising awareness and support for people with ushers Sydrome and RP (the family that my eye condition belong to) She is a big believer in technology and has been using for some time Resound Lynx digital hearing aids. These hearing aids are fully compatible and work with an app on an iPhone to be adjusted, directions and tested. They also work as headphones to listen to music and with the addition of a small microphone enable her to be hands free to make and take calls.
I am not always so, but I try to look for the positives and I decided that if I was loosing my hearing, if I had to go through all this, then I wanted to do it in the most comfortable and least obtrusive way. But at just under £5,000 for a pair, that isn’t going to be easy.
My climbing partner and dearest friend Simon set up a crowdfunding page, I wasn’t keen and felt ‘odd’ asking for friends to help me pay for these.
SO…… I have decided to do something to EARN the money from my friends and family, in the form of sponsorship. And this is where the ‘Cheesegrater’ comes into it.
That is the nickname given to The Leadenhall Building, 122 Leadenhall Street, the 225m (738ft) building that towers over The Gherkin; as is shown here:
So, the challenge …… To climb this height, all 228m of it, that is a whole 45m MORE than The Gherkin or 147ft in old money!
The tallest straight wall at Calshot is 14m (45ft) meaning that it will take 17 climbs up the wall to complete the equivalent of the buildings height.
Sounds simple when I break it down like that. But I know I have lots of training ahead of me, and a date to set. But I hope that you would agree, it is worth a little bit on sponsorship money?
The fundraising page: HelpTeeHear is up and running, so feel free to pop over and have a look, it shows the hearing aids in much more detail. I would appreciate your support.
It’s so weird looking back on the photos of last year…. This day one year ago along with the support of a great friend and the brilliance of my very talented climbing partner, I found myself climbing the equivalent height of The Gherkin, London’s iconic tall building, named so because of its glass uninterrupted shape and dominance in the London skyline.
I say the equivalent, because the building itself is un-climb able, so at Calshot Climbing centre we relayed between climbing and belaying to climb the 180m each.
We did the challenge to raise money for Hampshire Association for Care of The Blind,ore commonly known as Open Sight. With the final total being over £900. It was also a major personal challenge for both me and Simon whom I climb with. For me, because I had never climb this sort of endurance before and for Simon, he undertook the challenge blindfolded. It was our ‘Blind Climb’
due to life and work commitments, sadly it has been some time since we have been up the wall again…. But we shall return and soon !!
Having started rock climbing earlier this year, I have found a real passion for it. I am always after a challenge though, so thought to myself “Why not bring the two together?” So, I decided that my challange for 2014 would raise money and awareness for Open Sight, a Hampshire based charity that has helped me so much within my sight loss journey, that I want to give something back.
So, a climbing challange it was to be. Simon too needed to agree as I can’t climb alone. He has on occasions climbed wearing a blindfold, so that he can understand how I climb, so he agreed that any challange we took on, he would ‘equal the score’ by wearing a blindfold. He has many many years of climbing with challanging himself to reach a higher grade, he agreed that he too needed the challange, so he suggested the blindfold.
The type of challange was decided, the who was involved was decided. Now to decide the distance…..
Something BIG. Something ICONIC. Something even those with no sight could understand its SCALE.
IT HAD TO BE A SKYSCRAPER !!
The Shard in London was suggested, but at 310m (or there abouts) it was too big. A buiding that comes in at just under half its size came in as a suggestion. The Gherkin, named as such for its fully glazed exterior and dome shaped top resembling that of the pickled vegetable.
It measures 180m or 510ft in old money. As the building is completely glazed it isn’t physically possible to ACTUALLY climb it. So, between me and Simon, we will climb the equivalent distance of it at Calshot Climbing wall.
Me with my limited vision and Simon wearing his blindfold.
I think he is beginning to regret that decision, as he is probably now facing a larger challenge than me!
So, now for the ‘over to you’ part of this post.
This is a personal challenge for both me and Simon, but in doing this we wish to raise money and awareness for a great charity Open Sight…. We can do the climb (I hope) but we can’t raise the money without your help.
Please support us via our Just Giving Page www.justgiving.com/gherkinblindclimb or click the button below.
You may, if you have followed me for a white remember me saying that I am setting myself personal challenges. Last Year it was the Great South Run, this year I am going sailing.
Yes you read right, sailing!!
I have travelled by ferry many a time, but I have never sailed. And by sailing I mean, all hands on deck and joining in whole heartily with the skipper and my fellow crew to sail a yacht.
So, come July I am setting sail with fellow VI’s with VI-SA, the Visually Impaired Sailing Association.
I have already met many of my fellow crew at the VI-SA annual gathering that I went to last weekend in London. Where I discovered, that just like me, they don’t take sight loss too seriously and most definatiely don’t let it stop them from doing anything.
So, watch this space for more updates. This years challenge is personal for me,, so will not be a fundraising venture. That will be saved for next year with something big!
Having said I would update you on the training and how I was getting on, I let the side down. This wasn’t that the training wasn’t happening, it was just that life got in the way of me writing my blog.
So Sunday 27th came and so did the severe weather warnings!
I have to admit that throughout the training it was the rain I was worried about, not the wind. A very foolish misconception, after all the last 2 Miles of the race where along the sea front at Southsea, with no shelter. And as you will be aware if you have been anywhere near the great outdoors on that day, it was windy…. Very windy.
After an issue with my guide runner, the dog costume for the guide runner and everything coming together at the 11th hour I didn’t have the chance to be nervous about anything other than being able to finish the race.
My original guide runner was too tall for me, making him too fast in stride even at his walk pace. So, thankfully I was able to twist the arm of a friend, to join me. As a former partner, he is aware of my eye condition and my preferred way of being guided and having things explained to me. He also had a good understanding of what it meant to me to be doing such a challenge. Although I don’t think he had a full appreciation for what doing a 10 mile flat open air course would be like with a giant dog suit on!
The dog suit was another issue, the events team at guide dogs was arranging for me to have one of their costumes as the one that I had used from my local Southampton mobility team was already being used by someone else. With just 10 days to go before the race it arrived, a dog costume that looked nothing like the fat little puppy I had borrowed from Southampton, it was a very sad looking dog, with several sewing issues.
So, I went back to Southampton and asked for their help, the fundraising team were fab, they tracked me down a puppy costume that was in good condition, although missing its hand gloves, they arranged for it to be driven down from its home in Leamington and it arrived on the Thursday before the race.
It was a fat chocolate lab puppy costume, that with a guide dog race vest on looked the part. My guide would be able to play the role of being my dog after all.
So, it was all in place and race day came. On recommendation and for ease we travelled over to Portsmouth on the Gosport Ferry, and then walked the 2 miles to the charity village for a warm up before starting in the ‘green’ heat at 11.05.
It was only once arriving on site and getting the puppy ready, putting my own cane away that the emotion of the day hit.
And oh yes, it hit…. I was in an absolute panic. Not about running the race, not about even completing the race. No, it was something that unless you have trouble with large groups or very little vision will be hard for me to explain in a way that is easily understood.
The volume of people, more that 2500 of them were also taking part, yes we were ranked in different colours depending on ability, the green rank that I was in was the busiest and saved for the casual runners, walkers and those who had never done such an event before.
I was attached by an elastic strap on my wrist to the puppies wrist and when we had trained I had done so to hold his arm between his elbow and wrist. We had trained to work at a good pace together, none of this was of concern, this I had prepared for, trained for and had control over. All the other runners though, well they were a completely different story, over them I had no control, no understanding and nor did they of me.
In such a vast crowd no-one realised that I had a visual impairment or that the dog was my guide, not just a guy dressed up for the fun of it.
So we warmed up together, moved up to the start line together and then it all started, no more time for panic, no more time to think, just time to put my complete and utter faith in my dog.
But in a way that I had never put my faith in Vicky before, I couldn’t not do it now, there were several hundred people behind us, to the sides of us and in front of us and there we were, 2 people with no where to go but forward.
My senses were on ultra high, I could sense all of the people around us, especially those behind us, but I couldn’t judge their speed or distance and with a giant puppy head, vocal commands from my guide were non existant, instead it was all done through feel, touch and gentle gestures…. That we hadn’t practiced or used before. Where he went, I did, I gave up on trying to look forward, the movement of me and others was too hard to focus on, so I put my head down and watched his giant brown puppy paws instead and followed their rhythm.
We had trained together, to run together, but like I said, nothing prepared me for this. I felt like I was a failure, another thing that I couldn’t do, but then there were the people cheering and David attached to me and I WAS DOING IT, even if I had had to walk the whole course, I would have still have done it.
The race really knocked me down, yes I should of trained more, then maybe I wouldn’t have hurt so much after, but no amount of physical fitness prepared me for the emotion and the me part of the day.
I am struggling to explain this, but it was a very large marker for me, on how I do see things differently and how I feel about them. I have never and will not shy away from doing things like this again, in fact I am already thinking of next years challenge. Which not be a running event that is for sure!
I suppose that the reality that I was only able to do such an event by being with another person, not being able to just jog through the crowds and run my own race, I had to do it with a guide. A guide who was very happy to help and happy to go with my pace without complaint. But nether the less, a guide.
The great south run for me was another realisation that I can’t just get up and do things by myself, I am different and in this instance that has caused me upset.
Its been one of the highest moments for me to say YES I DID IT, but a low also to think that I wouldn’t be able to do it alone.
I struggle with staying indoors or doing nothing when the sun starts to shine. With the bad weather we have had despite it being April, I am getting serious cabin fever.
So on Sunday morning with my swimming partner out of action due to illness, instead of going to the pool alone, I popped to my mum and dads for a large mug of green tea….. This was my first solo bike ride, a round trip of just under 11 miles!
I struggled to hold the bike up at first as my whole body was shaking with a mix of fear and excitement.
Even writing this I feel pathetic. I am a 32 year old woman, who has been riding a bike since I was about 4…. This was a huge step for me though. And one that deep down I know is not pathetic.
I know the route to mum and dads really well, some would say I could do it with my eyes closed….. And in the dark, that would be almost the same thing. It is almost all cycle path, no problem at all.
Until you factor in joggers, other cyclists and the odd low flying buzzard!
As part of my condition I lost my ability to judge speed and depth, so when seeing another cyclist, I just stop. sounds daft, but then I can’t possibly ride into them that way. This does leave me often standing still for a while, but its the safest way I can think of.
I’m not sure what my consultants would say if they knew that I did this, I am not legally allowed to drive a car, but I have never been asked to take a test to ride a push bike. If I didn’t feel safe….. I wouldn’t do it, and like I said in a previous post, I do know my area very well and will only ride within cycle lanes, cycle paths and on the odd footpath in between.
In doing this and trying to keep my independence, I have also been called a fraud, but then, in reading a label in the supermarket or looking at my own watch I have also been called a fraud.
This is an open blog, please feel free to let me know your opinion. Good or Bad, all I ask is that you keep your language polite.
So with just under 29 weeks until I find myself running the great south run, which I am doing for 2 reasons…..
1) To raise money for guide dogs, who without their support and funding, I would not be have half the independence that I have today.
2) As a person achievement for me – I’m not going to break any speed records, but I am going to complete it by jogging/sprinting the entire course.
As a mum of 2, the reading on the scales has up radially gone up, something that I am determined to change. I don’t believe in fad diets, but healthy eating and that everything is good and allowed within moderation. To help with this I have joined my local Slimming World group for moral support. This hasn’t been without its own ups and downs, but it has also proved that a lot of the scales gain has come from loosing or thinking that I had lost my independence….. Life also gets in the way of exercise alot of the time, well the excuse that it does is actually what gets in the way!
With a guide dog I do try and walk as much as possible, I don’t have the luxury of jumping in the car to pop out for milk! But I really missed the bike rides and the swimming.
So guess what?
I do both !!!!! With the help of a friend I have gradually built up my confidence to swim, he has helped me strengthen my technique and we aim to go swimming together once a week, in addition to this I have signed up for a swim membership and often find myself at the pool, by myself at least once more each week.
Now that the weather is cheering up (although as I write this, it’s started to rain!) today the bike got dusted off and taken out….. With my daughter who is 7 we rode 4.2 miles to a nice pub for lunch, before taking the slightly longer route of 4.8 miles home again.
Some of you may be reading this with a sense of fear, for not only my safety, but that of my daughters…. Please trust me when I say that I would not do this without feeling safe. I am a firm believer that pavements are for both cycles as well as pedestrians (showing respect for each others space) I am also very lucky to live within fareham and its neighbouring town of Gosport, that both have a wonderful network of cycle track and designated cycle lanes on the roads.
With my central vision and concentration I am able to cycle very comfortably within these perimeters and pay full attention to my daughter.
Today we did also had a bit of help from a friend as my daughter had not previously had a lot of confidence with her riding.
But once she started there was no stopping her, I think she definitely carries my determined gene.