Shaun became a wheelchair user after a road accident left him paralysed from his chest down – but it didn’t affect his appetite for adventure or his lust for life.
Tell us a bit about the Kiliwheels Challenge expedition…
I just came up with the idea of climbing Kilimanjaro. The thought was to go up a route called the Rongai route – from the Kenyan border. There hasn’t been anybody with my disability attempt to go up that way. I thought well, if I’m going to do something… Let’s be the first to achieve that.
From there it just seemed to grow and grow and grow. We ended up with an expedition team of 26 other trekkers – I was the only one using a wheelchair – and a total expedition crew of 110 which included all of the porters. It was a six day trek.
The route that we chose goes through six different climates. It was a route that you really wouldn’t take a wheelchair… The porters helped me, lifting me over big boulders – it was absolutely amazing.
For the past five or six years I’ve been completing different challenges and raising money for charity. I chose two charities: CancerCare and Alex House, which is a respite care home for disabled children – and while we were out in Tanzania we came across a charity called the Kilimanjaro Orphanage Centre as well. All of this was going and we supported them. We raised £32,500 for the three charities.
The orphanage was near Kilimanjaro and I wanted to try to put something back into their community. We’ve managed to secure food for the children right up until March.
Why do something so extreme?
I’ve been in a wheelchair for 25 years. I was in a car crash and was given two days to live and since then I’ve embraced life. I love life. I try to do what I can to take myself out of my comfort zone. I don’t do it to be an inspiration or a person to look up to, I do it because I actually enjoy doing it – and I have a group of people around me who enjoy doing it with me. Life is like a challenge or an obstacle and it’s up to you as to how you deal it with it, how you cope.
At the end of the day we all need some sort of support – be it through a charity, family or friends. But you can achieve anything if you put your mind to it. It might take me a long time to do it but we get there. I can look back and say ‘I did that’.
What were the practical challenges?
From day one it was the biggest and most exhilarating challenge I’ve ever taken on. I wasn’t really prepared for it. I had to make sure that I wasn’t going to get any pressure sores and I needed to do my personal continence care through my mind – but it’s not until you get out there that you realise – it’s a little bit difficult!
I had my wife with me to support me but she was evacuated on day three (due to altitude sickness). Fortunately, I had (my friend) Gavin there. He supported me with the personal care.
I had to make sure that I wasn’t going to do myself any damage. The last thing I wanted to do was to come away with any physical injuries. The phrase we used was – ‘Slowly, slowly’ – and it literally was one wheel, then the next wheel – pushing as slowly as you can possibly imagine because of the oxygen. We had to acclimatise as we went up.
What were the mental challenges?
When we were going for the summit, because my oxygen level had dropped – there
was one thing that was going around in my mind and that was: ‘Shaun, you can do this
– just believe, just believe…’ I’m a positive guy. I believe the way forward is through having a good mental attitude. I was constantly having to keep that in mind.
Was it worth it?
Absolutely. It was the most amazing experience that I could ever imagine. I look back and I think, the wheelchair that went through that terrain was unbelievable. The support was unbelievable…
Would I do it again? Yes – I’m going back in 2018. This year, I’m pushing from Lands’ End to John O’Groats – trying to set a world record. Bring me a challenge and I’ll take it on!
Shaun used a reinforced RGK TIGA and Front wheel combination to ascend Kilimanjaro. Being completely made to measure it fit him perfectly and gave him confidence and support on extremely unforgiving terrain. The TIGA is very rigid and incredibly strong, and only a few modifications were made for this event. Rope hoops and grab handles were added, an additional seat brace for extra strength when handling the bumps and rocks, and extendable strollers because when you’re pushing a chair up a rocky incline, two people are better than one!