Mental Health Matters

Over the week of 13 - 19 May I posted a series of blogs on Facebook and other social media channels to coincide with Mental Health Awareness Week, highlighting Body Image. In this post I have collated all of the blogs into one spot, just incase you missed any of them.

The stories told below are from people who rarely talk about what they have written so putting finger to board has been a cathartic exercise for them and I’m sure has inspired a few out there who are going through the same as my contributors.

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I started with a blog that I wrote in the summer of 2018 called ‘Dear Legs. Yours sincerely, Brain’ I won’t go over what I wrote as it says it all in the blog but for me, putting it down on paper was a realisation that I am strong and that my body is stronger than I give it credit for.

Next up was Alex Staniforth, adventurer and all round amazing chap. I first met Alex whilst attempting to climb Everest in 2015. We shared base camp for 10 days before heading up through the Khumbu Icefall on 25th April. We had hoped to share a positive outcome to climbing Everest and we were lucky to come away with our lives after the earthquake that rocked Nepal, all be it very shaken and stirred.

Since then I've followed his exploits around the UK via social media and was lucky enough to catch up with him yesterday at the The Duke of Edinburgh's Award at Buckingham Palace in happier and less stressful times.

Alex speaks very eloquently about his fight with bulimia. It's good to talk. Click here to read Alex’s story

To follow Alex click through to his website www.alexstaniforth.com where you can find his other social media links.

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On May 15th I shared Tanya Noble’s story of going from full on to standing still, literally overnight. A fellow SayYesMore advocate, I’ve always seen her getting out there and living life at full speed. What happened over New Year took everyone by surprise, not least Tanya herself.

It’s the 12th week after open heart surgery. It wasn’t really what I had had planned for 2019 and most definitely was not on my ‘yes list’. From what started as tonsillitis on New Year's Day, culminated in a serious bacterial infection and being admitted to hospital and treated for sepsis, pericarditis and pleurisy/pneumonia.

It has been life changing, not in the sense that I have not made a recovery or there will be repercussions down the line (fingers crossed), but the time it has given me and the immense love and support I was shown by family and friends. Not only have I had time to recover and be so grateful for modern medicine but grateful at how my body was strong enough to get through it and time to realise that maybe I need to love myself and my body that little bit more!

Looking back there was a time when I was really comfortable in my own skin. When it came to purchasing clothes the more holes or more sheer the better (I'm in the red in the first pic below!). I was at Uni, I was in a relationship and I had a great social life with amazing friends who all lived a walkable distance away. I guess I had no reason to be anxious.

My wardrobe was made up of 25% work clothes, 10% ‘swag’ – (t-shirts and hoodies clients had given me to wear) and 65% clothes I liked and wish I had more time to wear. Yes, more than half my wardrobe was made up of clothes I did not wear often but ones that I thought made me feel more ‘attractive’ aka noticed! Looking back now I cannot believe I spent money like that.

Not being in a relationship for the majority of my 30s, I am now 38, has meant I have gone through times when I felt ‘not noticed.’ In my head it went ‘I work in a male dominated environment yet I’ve not been ‘noticed’ enough to develop a relationship with anyone.’ Of course this was anxiety talking – I had had relationships they just hadn’t worked out. This anxiety has meant I did go through stages of diets and fitness regimes – if I was fitter, if I was thinner, if my stomach was flat - I would be more attractive. None of these ‘regimes’ worked, of course they didn’t. The issue was with feeling attractive and that became measured by how attractive I felt to the opposite sex! No relationship = not attractive.

It is only recently that I really have noticed body image can very much be in your head and actually has very little to do with size! You can lose weight but still you are not happy, you still notice those troublesome areas. Since leaving hospital recently I lost a lot of weight (I had gained over a stone and half extra of fluid during my illness). Despite this I would catch myself looking in the mirror and notice those ‘wobbly bits’ – despite being the lightest I have been for years!

Getting fitter naturally you feel more attractive – and primarily that's down to mental strength and having those endorphins pumping.

Triking 750 miles last year on my first self powered journey brought back those self-love feelings of my uni days. I loved my body because it had carried me that far, even when my mind wanted to give up it refused. Getting messages that I was an inspiration and from complete strangers that they loved following my journey meant far more. When my motivation to do it wasn’t getting noticed in the attractiveness sense I came out with far more than any dress and new shoes could ever make me feel!

I guess all the time I have had to process thoughts recently has helped enormously. When I have visited friends in the past few weeks who saw me when I was first discharged from hospital, they now say ‘ wow, you are looking really good’ – ‘you are looking like you again.’ And that is what this is all about.

I am me – attractiveness is not measured by body size, by that allusive flat stomach, and it certainly is not measured by being in a relationship or not.

It’s a weird place I am currently in as while my fitness levels are no where near back at that climbing hills level, I am here telling this story. I have become determined to live a life embracing me as I am. Rather than my scar down my sternum being a weakness or a flaw I’m using it as a reminder of strength. Strength of my body, mind and most importantly that I am not alone. I am loved.

To end the fitting words of the all time greatest soundtrack.

“I am brave, I am bruised
I am who I'm meant to be, this is me”

Today I'd like to share a story from Jo Costello. Jo and I first met last year when we were planning an expedition. I picked her up at Frome train station having never met before and I was bowled over by her incredible locks and her effervescent character. We got chatting straight away and could have continued chatting into the wee small hours if trains back home hadn't got in the way.

Here is her story of how body image has had an impact in her life and her message to you.

Tiny Ginger Ninja or Irish Viking?

Ginger nut. Freckle face.Carrot top. Duracell .In the grand scheme of things these seem harmless comments, thrown around casually nearly every day so that it becomes the norm.

I'm an Army brat so myself and brothers moved to a new school every two years or so. I'm also a twin, he has dark curly hair, blue eyes and pale skin, the younger brother blonde hair and green eyes so I guess we all stood out. In Hong Kong I was used to being stared at, the locals in the market would pat or touch my hair and they were genuinely fascinated.

My first school, Hong Kong and I don't recall being a target for comments. After moving back to England, new school first day and it began with the sniggering and pointing. To set the picture I was a very small child with a huge head of long red curls and a face and body plastered in freckles, a sign of beauty if you believe your Grandma. Then we get to the first break in the playground and this is where the questions and comments start.

"Ugh, you're really ugly, why are you covered in spots?" 
"Why don't you have proper hair?"
My responses were always loud, angry and aggressive, I went from 0 to 90 with nothing in between. Then the school bully or hard case would join in and it nearly always became physical. I was a small kid, aged 7 wearing aged 4-5 clothes and at the first punch or hair pull (I had a lot to grab) my inner Tasmanian Devil surfaced and I would fight like someone possessed and not stop until pulled apart by a teacher.

So the first school day ends with a note going home to my parents and the other kids realising it was a bloody stupid idea to tease me. My Mum would go nuts and my Dad would be pleased I had stood my ground. And so this was the pattern throughout my schools years. I can honestly say it didn't upset me and I was always prepared for the next round of ignorance, it was almost the boredom of "here we go again" which irritated the hell out of me.

I went to school in Germany in 1974, again the only redhead and again the locals are fascinated, I got a lot of free sweets and ice cream from shop keepers.

Bring on the teenage years and the comments take on a different flavour.

"Do the carpets match the curtains?"
"You'll never get a boyfriend unless you bleach your hair"
"I've never slept with a redhead, I bet you're wild" This comment in particular was vile, I was 13 or 14 and out playing cricket in the street.

I love my hair, love being different and the more folk were negative the more I embraced being that fiery crazy redhead.

I lived abroad and travelled a lot and the reactions to my hair and skin colour is nearly always positive and people are very forthcoming with compliments. Maybe this is a part of why I enjoy travel, I'm made to feel very exotic! When I go home to Ireland I don't feel as unique, however it's the place I get the most compliments. In Germany as an adult and I'm swimming at an outdoor pool, a guy walks over with his friend and asks if I can turn around to show his friend my back! I'm fairly indignant and ask him what the hell he's on, his response, "we think you are beautiful, like a leopard".

Since when did it become popular to really slate "gingers"? Social media tells us it's Kick a Ginger day. This came about after an episode of South Park, which I love by the way. Cartman, the show's most narrow minded, derogatory character convinces the school and eventually the whole town to discriminate against the "Ginger Kids". The show tastefully delivers the message about how easily one person can convince the opinion of the masses, creating stupidity and hatred.
There's also Kiss a Ginger day, I don't think I would relish strangers kissing or kicking me.

I think my point is don't let the small minded buggers grind you down, we are all special, we are all incredible in our own ways. If you have a redhead child tell them how unique they are, if they have the coarse, mad curly hair then for the love of god don't brush it, show them the medical research on how we have a higher pain tolerance but do stress we need that sunscreen and above all rock that red hair!

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I first met Jago at #yestival2017 when we talked big mountains, many adventures and just getting on with life despite his #cysticfibrosis. What an inspirational young man.

Jago is a fellow SayYesMore Ambassador and optimises that ethos through his life, and by saying yes to writing a blog for my post during #mentalhealthawarenessweek with the focus on body image. Thanks for sharing Jago, what a star!

My65roses - My Body Image Story

It’s very difficult to pin point when you first realise that you weren’t happy with your body image. From being teased as a child to more serious comments as an adolescent teen, we all experience some form of negative self-reflection on our body. Most people refer to body image issues as being too fat around the stomach, or chunky thighs or even chubby arms and legs. I had experienced the opposite to these types of weight issues; the fact being that I struggled to put it on and keep it up.

From a young age, I grew exceptionally quickly. My family would always joke about how I would stand out at least a foot above my other classmates from 8 to 13 years old. But it was great for me, I really enjoyed being the tallest and reaching 6ft by the age of 14 made me feel like a giant. But for as long as I can remember, I have always been called ‘too skinny’ and ‘lanky’. If you ask any number of girls who have experience this, they would all agree that it is as insulting and demoralising as being called fat. The issue being that as I was a young male and confident, most people deemed it somehow justified referring to me in this way. There has always been a big stigma around the male body image and how this has affected guys being able to show their emotions that it has caused a more devastating effect in our future generations, in my opinion.

As I stopped growing so much, I felt as if I had to try and fit the ideal masculine image of a ‘man with muscles and as strong as an ox’. I do believe that it was because of social recognition, and not as much expectations, to gain weight as fast as possible as you grew. I hit the protein shakes hard, the weights even harder and eventually was getting to a stage where I was feeling more body confident, in a funny kind of way. As a young teen, I used to get into trouble more than the average student. One of the major factors that had gotten me into trouble was aggressive behaviour which included fighting. I vividly remember being teased such a large amount about being tall and lanky that it infuriated me so much to the point I now have a memory of one of the first punches I threw. I am certainly not proud of that moment, (even if they did kind of deserve it) but the teasing wore off a considerable amount the more I stuck up for myself and defended my ground. I was at a point I was very insecure that I started to feel sorrier for others around me that didn’t defend themselves and possibly got teased a lot worse.

After my diagnosis with Cystic Fibrosis at 14 years old, the penny finally dropped as to why I struggled to put on weight. With my CF, I never knew before that I had to eat a considerably larger amount of calories than my peers: up to 4000 calories per day to be more accurate. It also made sense as to why I trained hard and struggled to progress without the correct physiotherapy and treatment. Looking back at those earlier years, I feel a lot more sorry for myself now than I did then, as I was an angry young man with no understanding as to what I was fighting. When I ate more food and trained harder, I was always ending up ill with infections, compacted stomach and heavy sickness; all the while the comments didn’t stop. In terms of reflecting on my body image after my diagnosis, I felt like a brand new person with a new outlook on life as to what I saw as important and what is important.

The last years of school were a changing point for me which has honestly impacted my life greatly. To this day, I still get many remarks towards my weight and if you have experienced this before, you’ll know that very often it comes from family members and friends. They may not have the intentions to mean unwell although it still cuts at you as they don’t understand the battle you may be going through. Something I have learnt along the way, from staring into the mirror, from working hard on my body, and a lesson that you get told many times in your life is that you can never please everyone: and that will always be so true. When I was at my skinniest after one of my first travelling trips and not being able to keep a high calorie healthy diet, I came home to be told by everyone around me, multiple times that I ‘looked ill’. It was very infuriating and at no point did it make me feel like putting on weight, it only made me vexed at the people saying it to me and not realizing on my reactions that it hurt. After putting on a considerable amount of weight and getting up to 86kg in a few months, I was then teased and told that I was getting too ‘big’ and ‘caring too much about my appearance’. The same person that told me I was too skinny later told me I was too big! I would like to end this paragraph by thanking that person for making me realise how important self-love is.

When I was suffering some of my worst bouts of self-image issues, one of the best phrases I was told was ‘to either love myself or work on myself’. Getting into fitness to put on weight helped boost my self-esteem and confidence through working on external goals. I was no longer looking in the mirror each day and feeling unhappy, I was more interested in lifting a heavier weight, hitting a higher weight goal or even running at my fastest pace or doing a greater amount of pull-ups. Suddenly I had a focused concentration away from the hurtful comments and something I could engage myself in to feel happier with the way I am. It has not been an easy journey and I am sure I will still face many setbacks, but I am proud to be able to say that I have started to fall more in love with my body.

Saturday saw me sharing Jo’s story.

I first met Jo at the SayYesMore. #Yestival2017 in the queue for a cup of coffee and we started talking about tyre pulling and making friends with that mode of training as she was off to attempt to ski the Finnmark Plateau a few months later with Love Her Wild. It was at Yestival that I heard about My Great Escape

I was quite bold when asking various amazing people to write stories for this #mentalhealthweek body image blog of mine, to share their most inner feelings not often shared, and we’ve had stories from all sides of life so far. This is Jo’s story.

As a child all I cared about my body was that I could run, climb, scrap and play. My knees were always scabby, my elbows scrapped and my hair in bunches with purple ribbons flying, always bedecked with twigs and leaves. A Daddy’s girl, a football player, an animal lover and a happy wearer of pink dungarees; unaware my body would confuse, and cause me so much consternation, and so much worry over my lifetime.

As a teen I was goth, then dreadlocked new-age crusty, hidden in huge jumpers and cardigans, boots too big they made me seem even shorter. Make up so dark and hair backcombed no one could see me. My body and identity confused me, I didn’t fit the mould of girlie girl, couldn’t do makeup and just wanted to sit round a fire or dance. Where did me and my body fit into this world?

Mum, my most wonderful role-model, wore little make-up, strongly feminist, she discouraged me from shaving my legs and told me my body was beautiful and strong as it was. There to live with, not for. Not to be defined by clothing or desire. I listened, but I don’t remember believing.

Still, always present the nagging doubt, and the comparisons to everyone else. I was a dancer, a performer, my body on stage for all to see. Was I good enough, thin enough, supple enough? How well did I move? Did my body flow? I was scared yet proud, an applause whore and a shy mouse, all wrapped in a body I judged to be less than the images I saw all around. From the friends and strangers I compared myself too.

Looking back this was the ‘best’ my body had or ever would look, and before what happened next, this was the happiest I felt, until now…

As an abuse victim my body was judged and owned by someone else. My body an accessory to another’s twisted ideas. No longer mine to dress or hide as I chose. The subject of someone else’s constant scrutiny and jealousies. As I grew fatter, he grew happier. No one else will look and want you now. Stay at home, wear what you are told, don’t look at others, don’t talk to others. Stay here, mine, only mine.

My body dreaded touch, feared caresses and kisses were unwelcome, stillness and silence I craved, like air.

In those years, my twenties and thirties someone else defined me, and my body. Did I give them control or did they take it? Through years of subtle manipulation I was undermined, not only my body, but my mind was taken over too. Until all confidence, esteem and sense of self had been eroded. Unsure if my body and mind were even my own anymore. Could they be again?

Yes.

As an abuse survivor my body is MINE now. I am strong, in mind and body. I can share my body with love and eagerness and no embarrassment. With myself, now I am proud. I again run, climb and play. My legs are short but mighty, they carried me away, from pain, to safety.

My incredible, imperfectly perfect body has walked thousands of miles, summited peaks, paddled rivers, oceans and seas, skied in the Arctic and so much more. It is not a magazine body, it has lumps and bumps, cellulite and fat, it has spots and scars, it is ageing…but it is mine. In all of its imperfections and now, in my forties I love it, I am strong and I am finally proud again.

I know my body will turn on me, it has already started, IBS, greying hair, wrinkles, sore knees and a sagging neck, of which I am not a fan. A family history of cancer and heart problems dog my thoughts and now cause me a different kind of body worry. Will I follow my Mother’s double mastectomy footsteps? A worry, a fear, a whole new body image category. My ever-transient relationship with my body will continue, until this body continues no more.

For now, my body helps me show others the way, from surviving to thriving, from abuse to beauty. As abuse survivors - our bodies are our own again - we will conquer mountains, in our minds, lives and with our bodies which we make our own.

When I sat down to write this I had a whole other piece scoped out about body image and abuse. But I let the words flow and here they are, they are real and true and what it seems I want to say. My relationship with my body has fluctuated over my life time as you can see, abuse and my body image wasn’t something I had considered until Jo made me start to think

Body image is a fluctuating, strange thing, you can love and hate your body in the same moment. The importance, I realise for me, is that it is YOUR body, we must protect against it being taken over by others. So many of us are at war with ourselves, let’s not allow others to be too.

For millions of us our body is all we have, the only commodity we can truly call our own. When that is taken through abuse - whatever form it takes - domestic, trafficking, prostitution or otherwise, we must fight with and for those people to return their bodies to themselves.

At My Great Escape we support domestic and relationship abuse survivors to heal through adventure.



To finish off my posts this Mental Health Awareness Week I shared Charley’s story.

I first met Charley Newman a few short years ago on Kilimanjaro when I was leading for 360 Expeditions. She was one of my fabulous group and quite a character. It was one of the hardest decisions on any climb to turn her around due to illness but safety first, she could always come back and she did just that.

This year, on March 7th, she reached the summit pretty much bouncing up this time. We’ve kept in touch since the first climb, becoming friends, and whilst on Kili this year spent a good few hours chatting on the way down to Mweka Gate about life, loves and bodies, amongst other things.

Her story is quite something and shows the devastating impact that other people’s words can have on us. A fitting end to my week of blogs, sharing stories about body image as part of the Mental Health Foundation #mentalhealthawarenessweek

Over to you Charley and next stop - Everest Base Camp!!

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HOW I LEARNT TO LOVE MY BODY FROM STRIPPERS AND DRUNK MEN

I appreciate the click-bait headline might sound disingenuous, but these are the core experiences I contribute to going from hating the imperfect meat sack I was given, to worshipping it for the phenomenal being it is:

1. Surround yourself with body-confident people, it will become your normal

2. Your body is the greatest instrument you’ll ever own (I stole that bit) so maintain it accordingly (that’s all me)

3. Seek AND create your own external validation

I, like most people I know, grew up with a pretty shitty body image. This was reinforced from a young age from sources such as THE WORLD MEDIA, school bullies, Mum, Dad, friends, boyfriends etc A few particularly painful examples that jump out:

• Dad: No wonder you haven’t got a boyfriend with a nose like that. Why don’t you change your clothes. Why don’t you put some make-up on.

• Mum: Your boobs are so small…your butt isn’t as big as hers…If you get 3 A’s at A-Levels I’ll pay for a boob job

• ‘Friend’ at school: Your teeth remind of a rabbit’s

• 1st boyfriend: You’ve lost some weight, you look so much better

• My brain: I’m the fat one in our friendship group. I hate my big nose, flabby stomach, small tits, bingo wings, buck teeth, no-one will ever love me…

WHY CAN’T I LOOK LIKE BRITNEY BLOOMING SPEARS?!!!

I hated my body from being a teenager through to my mid-twenties. I struggled with my weight, hating myself so much I wished I was dead. Because who would love a fat girl with nothing good about her? I tried and failed at every fad diet going. At home, my principle carer was a feeder and used food as a numbing/coping tool, which perpetuated the food shame-guilt-binge-fast cycle. This in turn totally messed up my poor, malnourished, growing body, leading it to store even more fat and meant I continued to be a chubby teenager. Who grew into a physically, emotionally and mentally, unhealthy young woman in their twenties.

I know none of this is new, and is sadly, a painfully common journey for millions. I somehow ended up finding myself on a unique and unintentional route to loving my body. Young female, who still feels like a chubby girl with low-self esteem on the inside, ends up as a strip-club waitress. Freud would be crying in the corner with boredom, but I will cherish that life chapter for what it taught me.

Yes, my parents knew about the job and they were obviously super proud of me…

Long story short, I got myself into a huge amount of debt (£30k in 12 months) whilst backpacking so I applied for a job in a strip-club in Melbourne, having never set foot in one before. I just figured the tips would be awesome. After an eye-opening induction, I got the job and quickly adapted to my new ‘normal’ of sequins, vaginas and $100 dollar bills.

It started with my insecure brain performing a running self-commentary of comparing my own various body parts and against each strippers I saw on stage, ‘my butt’s perkier than hers, she has fake boobs and mine are real, her fake tan is streaky’. A completely screwed up, judgey, shameful dialogue that feels awful to admit and plays into typical female beauty stereotypes, which nowadays make me want to smash stuff. But this is what ran through my sad brain in my desperate attempts to make myself feel better about how I looked.

Slowly and gradually, after 8 months of bartending, I came to learn that being surrounded by goddesses’ owning their beauty, diversity, sexuality and power, was rubbing off on me. These women were every shape, race, size, hair colour, stretch marks, tattoos, it didn’t matter. Every one of them was using their physical form to make hundreds/thousands of dollars a night. I had never before been surrounded by so much body acceptance in a room of women. It didn’t matter that they weren’t perfect, they were still killing it. Flat butts, fake tan and all. So maybe…looks aren’t everything???

Whilst I was working at the club and all the magic stripper body-confidence was permeating into me through osmosis, I started taking pole-dancing lessons. This further helped me to enjoy my body for the creative, wonderful, extraordinary instrument that it is. It was an opportunity to build physical strength, make friends, be openly sexy, express myself through dance and music and build myself into something very strong that I could feel proud of. Every lesson I could feel myself being better and loving myself more each hour spent dancing in front of the mirror. Naturally from working out, my diet got better, I lost some of that puppy fat I’d been hanging onto for 10 years and I got offered a job to teach pole. I was feeling a lot happier, like I wasn’t as broken as I originally thought, which was refreshing and enlightening, life didn’t have to be so hard.

Whilst I was doing the work (at work and in the pole studio) on myself, I also got the external validation that I had craved for so many years. Being told I was gorgeous/beautiful/you should be on that stage/can I get your number a gazillion times a night by drunk customers, did me a world of good. It feels seriously shallow saying that as self-love does truly come from the inside, but seeing as most of the shameful shit and crap has come from external sources, I think it’s ok believing the external sources when it came to the compliments too. We always hang on insults and internalise awful things people say about us but not the nice, lovely ones. Over time I took the compliments to heart, let them in, believed them and let them help heal my sad, inaccurate, fractured idea of how I looked. Even though they were through the lens of Jack Daniels and some dodgy, genital-driven ulterior motives, I chose to agree with them. Now every morning my day starts with self-affirmations and being kind to myself.

I will never forget the colourful underworld of that stripclub. I left with a bucket-load of confidence, a renewed excitement for what was ahead, a connection to the pole dancing community and a true, deep adoration of the body I was blessed with. I have since gone onto climb Kilimanjaro, run a marathon, hike across the Alps and I now willingly spend a lot of time and resources maintaining and cherishing this glorious imperfect meat sack.

Reading all of these blogs when they came in was quite an experience. You think you are alone with your own skewed image of your body but you really aren’t.

To finish off this week of blogs I’d like to add in another one from an amazing lady called Yvie Johnson. She is an incredible illustrator and all round amazing individual who is going through tough times with her body and ME. She’s written a very honest and raw account of both body love and body loathing. Click here to be taken through to her blog and please visit her online shop.

Illustration by Yvie Johnson

Illustration by Yvie Johnson

Are you having a bad day? Don't worry, it's normal.

‘Right, that’s it, I’m off!’ were the words going around and around in my head. ‘I’ve had enough of this billy bull. I’ve come here to climb the mountain and not to be belittled, this is supposed to be fun.’

I was preparing a little speech to give to Rolfe about how I’d had enough and wanted to give up and go home. We were at Camp 2 on Everest in 2016 during our 2nd attempt at the summit that year with our first attempt being aborted the week before due to bad weather. My emotions were running high, I was on hyper alert and Negative Nelly was trying to have her way. Thankfully Positive Polly chipped in. ‘Why do you want to give up? You’ve come so far and been subjected to worse, don’t let this moment of pain eclipse a life time of achievement. The short-term pain of what you are going through now is insignificant compared to the long-term pain of disappointment that you will feel if you, quite literally, give up’ I knew physically and mentally I was capable of reaching the summit but….

Polly was right. Fortunately, I didn’t have that conversation with Rolfe and just put a lid on my feelings and carried on. A few days later we stood on the summit of Everest having survived the earthquake a year before, my own personal victory was bitter sweet.

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I took this photo at Everest Base Camp, just a short 24 hours after we had reached the summit. I was totally spent. Physically, emotionally, mentally, everything had gone into that moment of standing on top of the world and there was nothing left. I was supposed to be elated but even elation was too tired to show her face, for now.

Going through life on a high is not a natural state or thinking that everything will go according to plan 100% of the time is a fast track to disappointment. We all have bad times in our day to day lives so why do we expect a week or more on expedition to be any different? A trip of a lifetime, something that we have worked and saved so hard for, we have chosen to be there and therefore we are meant to be enjoying all of it, right? Well, in my eyes, wrong. Life in general has its ups and downs, its ebbs and flows so why, when we are often in a state of anxiety for long periods of time, do we expect, that everything is going to be fine and dandy.

In this blog I explore not only my own experiences of having a bad day (or few) but delve into the experiences of those who expedition in all sorts of ways. How they deal with ‘those days’ and how, in the end, we get through them and live to fight another wonderful and precious day.

Adventure needs to be adventurous – Fears and Tears, Angels and Demons

In this Amazon Prime life of instant gratification and social media happy faces we sometimes forget that it’s during the long slow plod and those not-so-fun times that we grow and become stronger more than during the WhooHoo high on life times. I’ve often been told by clients ‘this is harder than I thought it would be’ and yes, sometimes it is but that’s not a bad thing. It doesn’t have to be fun to be fun and quite often expeditions are Type 2 fun.

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The Oxford English Dictionary definition of adventure is ‘an unusual and exciting or daring experience’ and I think ‘exciting’ is the part that a lot of people want and expect most of the time. They feel that having a bad day is a waste of time, but I have come to accept that it’s normal, all part of the way we deal with our perceived limits being expanded and our extraordinary becoming ordinary.

When Anna McNuff set off for her first 2 big adventures, cycling all 50 states of America and then running the Tearoa Trail in New Zealand she was, admittedly by her, a novice at adventure but she went into it with open eyes and keen to learn as she went, listening to the advice of those more experienced and then acting on what she thought was appropriate. She was certainly in for some epic adventures and I’d highly recommend you read her first book ‘Pants of Perspective’ that will take you on her rollercoaster 3000km run ‘Down Under’ a couple of years back. In the book she highlights her ‘Cheerleaders’ and ‘Soldiers of Self Doubt’. Similar to my Positive Polly and Negative Nelly, we both went through our own process of filtering out Nelly and the Soldiers in order to come through the tough times.

Sarah Outen, of ‘London2London: via the world’ fame shares similar coping mechanisms in her book. She went through some serious and life-threatening moments on her round the world expedition as well as the simpler ‘Am I really capable of pulling this off?’ thoughts. Her peloton of friends and family really struck a chord with me and it’s something that I borrowed and used on Everest when I was having a low physical or emotional energy moment whilst climbing. Knowing that so many people are behind you is a great strengthening factor to just keep on going and I physically felt that I was being pushed up that mountain to the top. Thank you all!

‘Failure is not an option’ – it’s all about your attitude not the altitude

I’ve heard these first 5 words so many times before and it makes my heart sink. Don’t get me wrong, I understand the sentiment but when people take it to the nth degree, when the red mist comes down, that’s when it can become dangerous. I lead many an expedition at altitude when this attitude can not only have an adverse effect on the person but also on the group. I’ve been on mountains when people ignore the advice of those in a position of better knowledge and authority. One incident nearly resulted in a life changing event for one chap who ignored his Expedition Doctor’s advice to turn around three times, said trekker snuck by to the summit and then developed cerebral oedema resulting in my local guide rushing him down to our Doctor to be treated and then rushed down to camp to find his group. We had no idea who he belonged to but fortunately someone at camp recognised him. He was a lucky chap. It transpires that he had placed a very large bet on himself to reach the summit, ‘no matter what’. His no matter what could have been life changing and having this type of bad day is totally avoidable. It’s all about your attitude.

Now, back to these wonderful adventurers and explorers. Even the best of the best have had bad days and as with all of us it’s how they learn and grow from said days that’s the most important part. Making a good outcome from a bad situation.

 When bad things happen but greater things follow

Sometimes stuff happens on expeditions despite the best planning and preparation. It’s truly annoying to say the least and you do have the ‘Why me?’ feelings but then again, why would you wish it on anyone else. However, when sliding doors are in operation, bad can often turn into good and enhance your life in ways you never thought possible.

I hope you are aware of Dave Cornthwaite and Emma Taylor of the SayYesMore tribe. Dave set up SayYesMore in 2015 and this community has had a big impact on many a life. Dave was on one of his Expedition1000 journeys, walking through Jordan with fellow adventurer and great friend Lean McCarron and in his words ‘Broke leg walking Jordan. In the absence of 1000 miles I went home and met Em’. Seemingly, breaking legs runs in their connected vibes as Emms has also broken a leg whilst on expedition too and was transported around in a wheel barrow in Africa. They recently became Mr and Mrs Cornthwaite, hugest congratulations!

 Knowing when to stop

Stopping when things simply don’t feel right is the best decision to make. It is sensible, it’s mature, it can save you physically and mentally and certainly is not failure. There is a big difference between giving up and checking out when times get tough and stopping for safety’s sake.

Scott Smith is an ex-Para and adventurer who runs his own company Adtrex with wife Michelle (more from her later). I’ve worked for and with Scott since 2011 delivering DofE expedition training and assessment and I have learnt a great deal about his strong work ethic and his never give up attitude. He has competed in and completed the Marathon des Sables and the Montane Yukon Arctic Ultra, amongst many other races and mountaineering expeditions, but it was this year’s Iditasport Impossible race that was his biggest event to date.

Having trained like a demon and had the best preparation he could all was well at the start of the race but despite his best efforts, the elements just are not with him. Mother Nature would have the final say and no matter whether you think you can beat Her (a fairly risky strategy in my eyes), the sensible option is to come home with all fingers and toes still connected to your body and try again. This what Scott wrote in March of this year after having to pull the plug on his race.

‘After 30 days and 783 miles I have decided to bring my Iditasport 1000-mile challenge to an end. I am absolutely gutted to have to make this decision but due to persistent snow, high winds, dense fog and whiteout conditions, the going has become incredibly difficult and sometimes impossible to make forward progress. With over 200 miles and only 5 days left before I would need to return to the U.K. I feel it would be foolhardy of me to think I could cover the 40+ miles per day that I would need to in such prevailing conditions. It has been an epic adventure with many highs and lows along the way, my metal has certainly been tested.’

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For him it wasn’t about the return home date but also the impact on his safety with insufficient food to cover the last 200 miles due to more days on the trail than planned due to the adverse conditions. Sometimes it is just not meant to be. Having spent many an hour discussing his race in my van on DofE whilst the students slept soundly in their tents, I know just how hard it was to make the decision to pull the plug but he has learnt so much from his first attempt, from his training and preparation and will go back stronger in 2 years’ time. If you don’t learn from things that go well and things that don’t then you may as well stay at home.

Beth French in an incredible lady who has been through so much in her life. In her words ‘I was struck with glandular fever at 10 and didn’t fully recover. My adolescence being marred by periods of immune dysfunction and exhaustion. It was not until I was 17 and wheelchair bound that ME was given as a diagnosis’. Becoming an ocean swimmer confounded many a medical expert but as she says, swimming is her refuge. In her attempt to become the first person to complete the world’s 7 ocean swims within a year she decided to put a stop to her challenge during #5 of the 7. I simply can’t do her story justice in a few words, but I encourage you to read her blog about knowing when to stop even when you knew you were likely to succeed. It’s not always all about you, what you want or your success but also about those who are important to you. The impact of keeping going or stopping can have a far-reaching effect. http://bethfrench.co.uk/2017/09/15/not-the-end-but-a-departure/

“Failure can teach us sometimes that our goals weren’t what we want in the first place. You learn the lesson along the way, and the lesson is the goal. The pot of gold at the end of the rainbow moves with the light, so if I don’t complete all seven channels in a year, do you know what?; It’s not a failure because I’ve tried, and having opened up and been honest with myself and honest with people around me and said, do you know what? This is what I really what I want to try to do—that’s the scary bit, that’s the exposure, that’s the lesson; the journey to try to do it, that’s the goal, and we don’t ever call that the goal because that’s not an observable, achievable aim.” Writes Dr Linda Tucker – listen to her podcast with Beth here https://itunes.apple.com/us/podcast/top-100-inspirational-women-beth-french/id925468077?i=1000379128156

I am a great believer in a sixth sense, that gut feeling you get when you know something is right or wrong. You learn it the more you do your trade, the more experience you get. Expanding your normal is all part of game but listening to that gut and knowing the difference between sensibly stopping or giving up when things get tougher than we expect is a powerful part of your expedition knowledge, your expedition bank of experience.

Dealing with what others say about your premature finish is another matter but it’s the white noise that we need to filter out. It is your journey after all and if you are happy with your decision or understand that someone else has had to make the decision to stop for safety reasons then be comfortable with that. People often judge through eyes which lack the full picture. It’s not what happens in our lives, good or not, that make us the people we are but it’s the way we deal with it that is most important. 

Taking a chill pill – it’s my decision to be here

Laura Kennington has completed some seriously amazing expeditions, but as with many of us, it hasn’t always been this way. She started with smaller adventures, building up resilience and a bank of bad days just by being out and about, and that bank is the back bone of why and how we can all keep on going.

On her recent Great North Ride, a 6000km 8 country coastal ride, you could feel her pain or elation through her social media posts. When things were getting really tough it was her attitude that shone out to me. When asked to send a photo and a description of a bad day for this blog this is what she wrote. I love the sarcastic positivity at the end, but you know that she has already looked back at that time and really laughed.

‘After a day of battling relentless headwinds, extreme heat, busy roads and mental drivers, hills and mild dehydration (partly from running out of water, partly from crying when it all got too much – I later realised I can’t afford to cry because I’m running low on water) and no food for the final 10 miles! Such good times…haha.’

You can learn so much from other people about resilience and about the way they deal with things when they are at the pointy end of life. I was recently asked what kept me going when I was having a really tough time, where did my determination come from and why on earth did I go back to Everest having experienced the trauma of the earthquake in 2015? A really simple answer was that it was my decision to be there and I could easily make the decision not to be (in most cases!). No-one had forced me to climb that mountain, it was my choice and I’d chosen to be there to push myself, expand my normal, to see what I really was capable of. It was also my choice how to deal with it and I now know when to give myself a good talking to when Nelly gets a little chatty. When we go through the tough times our armour gets a little stronger, our bank of stick-ability gets a little richer and when tough times come again we know how to deal with them.

Two further great examples of this are given by ultra-racers Michelle Lawrence-Smith and Katy Parrott. Michelle is a Deputy Head of a comprehensive school in Kent where the students have many challenges in their day to day life, an IML, co-owner of Adventure Training and Expeditions and Scott’s better half. She understands disappointment in many walks of life and is of the ‘keep calm and carry on side’ train of thought. When competing in the Marathon des Sables she suffered as much as many of the other runners with blisters, the searing heat, unrelenting conditions and a rather dodgy shoulder. That race then took her onto the colder climate of the Montane Yukon Arctic Ultra and having gone from +50C in the desert, she experienced -50C in the Yukon. Her calm nature, a life time’s worth of resilience in the bank and with most of the field dropping out (and bits of them dropping off) she kept her nerve and continued safely to take first female place in the race and 4th overall. There is certainly more to come from Michelle.

Katy Parrott is not new to adventure, but this year took on her first ultra-marathon, competing in a 100km race from Bath to Cheltenham, with many ‘undulations’ along the way. Katy was running not only for herself but also to raise funds for mental health charity Mind and in the memory of a great friend. As with Sarah Outen’s peloton, it’s amazing how taking on a challenge for a great cause can spur you on through the really dark and tough times. There is no such thing as a selfless act and, although I can’t speak for everyone or even anyone, I for one take on these adventures for myself as well as for others by pushing on through my own pain and dealing with my own demons along the way.


Katy says at the end of the race ‘There are no words to describe the overwhelming feeling of crossing that 100km ultramarathon finish line. Especially when it means so much. At 11:55pm last night I crossed the finish line of my first 100km ultramarathon. I set out purely to finish the challenge and raise a bit of money for Mind but exceeded all my expectations. After battling 2500m of climbing, highs of 30 degrees, 4 blood blistered toenails (goodbye nails) and utter agony in my hips and knees, I finished 3rd female overall with a total time of 16 hours 55 mins.’

Photos of Katy courtesy of Martin Hartley

Katy and I will be pairing up to take part in the Devizes to Westminster race next year and will be raising funds for Mind and Place2Be, both mental health charities close to our hearts. Watch this space!

When your mind says go, your body says no

Meet Olie Hunter Smart, he’s done a spot of long-distance trekking to say the least! Last year he walked the length of India, the first person to do so. A journey which took him from the high Himalayas in the north to the southerly most tip of this immense country and where he left just a little bit of himself along the route. I’ll let him tell the story:

‘Having come over the final snowy pass into the lower reaches of the Western Himalayas, I was immediately struck by the abundance of fresh food available - fruits, vegetables, street food. Having been limited in my consumption above the snow line, I gorged on anything I could lay my eyes on. I found myself enjoying chicken momos, a speciality in this part of India. Two days later I was unable to stay awake throughout the day, and another 24 hours later I had been struck down by my first bout of Delhi Belly! I was driven down the hill to the doctor on the back of a motorbike barely able to hold on, who confirmed some kind of stomach infection and for the princely sum of £2, I was prescribed a batch of antibiotics. A few days later I was strong enough to make a move. Except, it wasn't the physical nature of this illness that affected me, as I knew that was inevitable at some point. It was the delayed reaction of how it affected me mentally which lasted well beyond any physical signs. For two weeks I questioned whether I could complete this journey as planned, and why did I think I could be the first person to walk from the very north to the very south of India when no one else had. Those doubts challenged me in so many ways, especially when I was offered lifts, but I played ticks with myself to get to the end of the day, week, or a destination before I would consider re-thinking my expedition. Ultimately, that kept me going long enough until I had mentally recovered from the set back.’

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 Dealing with a medical set back can, as Oliver says, play tricks on your mind. Our minds are so much stronger than we give them credit for and once again the power of our thoughts to sabotage a goal can be overwhelming. Knowing when to stop and ask for help can make the difference between success and having to pull the plug for good. Working on what happens in your mind is the next step.

Remembering what others go through at home – they have their bad days too

When the earthquake struck at 11.56am on Saturday 25th April Rolfe and I were sorting our tent out at Camp 1 on Everest. There were many things which could have stopped our climb but, even though we were in the Himalayas, an earthquake wasn’t even on our radar. Once the ground had stopped moving and the avalanche debris had settled down I grabbed our sat phone, shoved it in Rolfe’s hand and said ‘please phone Marni (his wife and co-owner of 360 Expeditions) and tell her we are ok. Please ask her to phone my Parents on their mobile, not the land line’ His response was ‘yeh, yeh, yeh’ but I was insistent. My Parents of more mature years were on holiday in Belgium at the time and I didn’t want them finding out about the earthquake courtesy of the BBC. BBC journalist and cameraman Tom Martienssen was climbing with us and had already filed a report with the BBC so time was of the essence.

Fortunately, when Mum received the call from Marni she had only seen the ticker line at the bottom of the page ‘Earthquake in Pokhara’ and knew that we were no-where near that side of the country but didn’t know how bad our situation was. I’m sure Marni’s words of ‘they are ok’ helped but Mum and Dad shot home as fast as they could.

For us it was easy (it’s all relative) as we were living what was going on second by second and could react accordingly. Those at home were getting 2nd hand news, often dramatised (not Tom’s work thankfully) and a few hours late. The earthquake was a drama in itself so why make an already dramatic event worse. This event certainly expanded my normal and gave me a slightly different benchmark on life. The after effect on both me and those close to me was quite marked.

During her own Everest expedition, Holly Budge took this video. If this isn’t part of someone’s normal who is watching this then I guess it can look pretty scary.

‘This video was taken in Camp 2 on my ascent of Everest on the north side, just below 8000m and it was at the end of a gruelling day of high winds, fog and temporarily losing my climbing partner for four hours which saw me climbing 500m higher alone and in the dark, thankfully to be reunited right at the top of camp 2. Was pretty intense especially as we were a two-man team! Summited 1.5 days later and was rewarded with blue skies and amazing views on the summit. Unfortunately got caught in a storm on the way back down and we had to spend a night in Camp 3 at 8300m. I’ve never experienced winds like it and in the morning, we were one of only three tents left standing. The others were blown clean off the mountain. A further 9 hours, battling with the winds and we were back in ABC (Advanced Base Camp). I didn’t realise the profound effect, at the time, this video would have on my friends and family following the expedition as I look like I’m half dead! My mum cried when she saw it!!’

So why do we put ourselves and our families through it? I’m sure my Mum has asked herself this very same question many a time. When Rolfe and I were evacuated back to Everest Base Camp 2 days after the devastation of the earthquake in 2015 we arrived at a camp destroyed by the mother of all avalanches. Everest Base Camp is usually a thriving community during the Spring climbing season, full of around 1000 people either climbing or supporting said climbers. What we walked up through was like being on a film set. It was as though someone was going to come out and say ‘Cut! Brilliant but if you could just walk a bit slower that would be great’ But this wasn’t a film set, this was real life.

We dug for our kit for 2 days and I was convinced that I was going to find my mobile, I wanted and needed to find that iPhone. It was not the phone itself that I wanted but the connection to home, to my Parents, family and friends. Towards the end of day 2 with 8 hours of digging a day I was told by Rolfe to just stop, you are never going to find it. Just a little more I said to myself and there is was, under a meter of snow and ice, just sat there. I sat it in the sun for a bit, turned it on and a host of messages came pinging through. I simply couldn’t believe it! After texting Mum to tell her I was back in contact I replied to a text from my sponsor. We had a brief chat and he asked if I would go back. I replied Yes. It wasn’t bad preparation that had stopped our climb but Mother Nature having a tantrum. Brilliant he said, go back next year. I screamed and then quickly told Mum that we were coming back the following year. The response I received? ‘Great’ and I can imagine it was not said with glee.

I do it because life is out there to be grasped and grabbed with both hands. I used to be hugely risk averse and said no to too many opportunities, always thinking of what could go wrong. I now have a very healthy respect for risk but know when to push things and when to back off. Saying yes more has enhanced my life and has afforded me the opportunities I never thought possible. My Parents respect that as much as I respect their concerns.

I am also very aware of the damage that social media can have on someone’s nerves back at home. When we post a dramatic story of what’s happened we are usually tucked up in a tea house, sipping hot chocolate and ready for bed. Those at home read this and head off to the land of nod in worry mode as they have no idea that all is safe now. Once again Anna McNuff alludes to this in her book, Pants of Perspective, reminding herself of the impact of such emotions on her loved ones when her bad days were over.

Life is like an echo – what you send out comes back.

I spent way too long brooding over my Everest expedition however, looking back on it, I needed that time to filter out what had happened not only in 2016 but also the aftermath of 2015. I am also very aware that the words that I choose to use when regaling a story and impact I wish those words to have can have far reaching effects. It’s the same with how we act and react on our tougher days. I’m now much more open to asking for help, knowing that this is a strength and not a weakness. Everyone goes through tough times, we are all humans, and showing a bit of humility and vulnerability has made me a stronger and more empathetic person.

What ever the size of your expedition, from micro to massive, having the tougher moments is all part of the journey and not the destination. So if you are having a bad day, don’t worry it’s normal. One life - live it!

A huge thanks to all of the fabulous adventurers who offered up photos and quotes for this blog and to Sarah and Anna for giving me inspiration in their books. 



Dear younger Jo

A week ago I had the absolute privilege of being Guest Speaker at Chafyn Grove School at their end of year awards event and I had 5 minutes to give a 'go get 'em' speech. No pressure! Instead of doing the usual 'when I was a child' ditty I wanted to say something a little different but with just as much impact so I decided to write a letter to a younger me and here it is. 

What advice would you give the younger you, now you have your years of experience?

"Dear younger Jo.

Life, as the saying goes, is like a box of chocolates. Some chocolates you want to savour and wish you could eat more often, some you are a little non-plussed about, easy come, easy go and some you just don’t like the taste of and never want to experience again. In order to know which chocolates you like, you need to experience some that you don’t.

I know that you think you have your life all mapped out. Horses, a husband, 2.4 children, dogs, chickens, donkeys, a farm and a life in the outdoors. It really does sound fantastic and will be the first part of your life after school (well, maybe not the husband or children bit but don’t worry about that!) but please don’t be disappointed or think that you are a failure if life takes a different path, as the path you eventually discover may lead you to an even more fulfilling life that the one you have planned.

You have already been through some tough times at school and will go through some more but take a deep breath and weather the storm, there are calmer waters ahead, I promise. If only genetics would have given you smaller calves and longer legs but some things you just can’t change and later in life you will be grateful for your genetics and those sturdy pins as they will take you to great heights and distant places.

Do remember that it’s not what happens in your life, good or bad, that makes you the person you are but what counts is how you choose to deal with it. I encourage you to be the more gracious person as actions speak louder than words. Be a victor and not a victim, for those calling you names have insecurities all of their own, it just seems unfair that they take it out on you. Trust me, this will make you a stronger, more resilient and more understanding person, but I know that it’s just hard to go through right now.

Your life will take many twists and turns. Embrace them rather than running away. Get out of your comfort zone a little more often by saying yes more, as you never know, you may find exciting opportunities in life which you never knew were there.

I know that at the moment, if your school year were to write a list of those least likely to climb any mountain you wouldn’t even feature, but rest assured, your life will take a whole different route to a future more exciting than anyone could have imagined. If I told you now, in your younger years, that 30 or more years later you would be standing on the highest mountain on this planet having survived an earthquake just 12 months before, I know that you would say ‘gosh, not me. I would never be capable of that’ and then you would run in the other direction! Climbing Everest is not for everyone, but everyone has their own Everest to climb.

It’s hard being a youngster, all those hormones flying around, too much school work and big expectations on your young shoulders but during these holidays take time to just sit and be still. Find a happy place and make it your own, cuddle a dog, give a friend a hug, tell your parents that you love them and know that asking for help is a strength and not a weakness.

Life is yours for the taking and the only failure in life is the failure to try. Do not judge yourself against others as life is not a competition and do not judge others unless you know their full story. Be bold, be strong and always be kind. You cannot be the best at everything, I just ask you to simply give everything your best.

With love and hugs, the older Jo x "

Dear Legs. Yours sincerely, Brain.

Dear Legs.

We haven’t had the best relationship, you and I, over the last 47 years. We were called many an unpleasant name at school because of you, my particular favourite being Captain Cankles but the likes of thunder thighs, tree trunk legs and colossal calves were also in the mix, girls can be so cruel.

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I never felt that you carried us very well. Always a little on the podgy side, calves too big, not much ankle going on, not really an elegant sight to behold. Running was always a bit of an issue wasn’t it. Not executed in great style as you usually fell over your own feet and made a fool of us. Is that why you chose to be in goal in hockey and netball and that you loved to swim, no falling over there, just lots of floating.

Over more recent years we’ve had a slightly better relationship. You’ve come into your own lately, getting up a hill or two but as your school report once said, could do better, could go farther, could go faster.

We’ve never been able to buy nice smart knee length boots because of your somewhat over-sized calves, wellies have been an issue, riding boots were almost impossible and skinny jeans are out, everything just bunches up around your knees and you look rather comical.

And today, well what can I say about today. Today you failed us in training. When asked to do more you simply gave up, you said no thanks, you threw in the towel. Why was that? You know you can do better, you know you have done better. Being tired doesn’t cut it anymore, we know that’s true. You should have, could have, tried harder. Story of our life, eh?

Yours sincerely, disgruntled Brain.

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Dear Brain.

Gosh, don’t hold back will you. Harsh comments, a few of which are fair, but certainly not many. There are two sides to every story and here is my very considered reply to you, dear Brain.

The name calling – where do we start with that one. It probably had nothing to do with you but rather the insecurities of the girls it was coming from. Yes, it was harsh, but you survived school and that was a long time ago. As the song says, let it go. Just stick it on a cloud and blow it away but before you do, let it make you a victor not a victim, let it make you stronger and more resilient, let it make you more considered and empathetic. Let it make you be damned sure never to think those things about other people as you, for sure, know how it feels to have bad things said to you, about you and behind your back. Never, ever be that person.

Did I not carry you well? I have to disagree. We can’t all have leggy legs for yours are strong and healthy. Remember the time you were trodden on by a horse, full pelt, landing heavily and you still have the dent to prove it? Had you not been strong your femur would have broken and you’d have been in a whole lot of trouble. Thank me for that one please and carry that dent as a good reminder of strength, not as a war wound.

I do agree that we were a little podgy, puppy fat as Dad used to say, although you did eat a little too much in your younger days, and your 20’s, but you learnt your lesson as you went along in life to look after yourself. That what you put in your mouth has a direct impact on what you get out of me, your dear legs, so do remember. I’m the only pair you have so feed me well and I will take you to the ends of this earth.

As for the running, didn’t you finish 3 half marathons before you started all of this adventure lark you think I’m too slow at? You didn’t fall over once, you didn’t get a single blister on the feet at the bottom of me, you didn’t once give up even when I got tired because you knew that the only way to get to the finishing line whilst training or taking part was to just keep putting one foot in front of the other.

Dear Brain, you have more power to stop me working than I do for you are the ruler of our whole body. You make the decisions as to whether we keep on going or when we stop. Please do remember that your power is the greatest of all. You can be powerful when I am weakx and you can be weak when I am powerful, ultimately the decision is yours, not mine.

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As for the hill or two…Everest, a hill, really?! And all of the other stuff we have done together…seriously?! We, and yes, I say WE, have achieved so much more in life than WE ever thought possible. Remember how you tell people that you never even wanted to climb Snowdon once let alone two 8000ers and Kilimanjaro so many times. We all know that it takes a huge amount of effort to get me into the shape needed for even Snowdon and the bigger stuff so please stop selling us short. WE are doing pretty ok!

Now, for those boots, where do I start with that one?! Who cares if you can’t wear nice knee length boots. Who cares if you think you look odd wearing a skirt, WHO CARES? There are people out there who would steal your legs for the simple reason that they function. They may not look great, they may be like a road map (of life do remember) but do stop being so selfish and vain, end of.

As for today, well today was different. Today, dear Brain, you were not in the right place full stop. Today it was not my fault that we stopped as you made the decision not to carry on. It would have hurt, that one more rep on the bike and rowing machine, gosh it would have hurt but I know we could have done it. You were scared, I don’t know why. Failure? Failure of what? We were there together, remember, in the gym. You were putting me through hell yet again, knowing that every turn of the pedal, every stroke on the rowing machine was going to get us that bit fitter, that bit more prepared for the next 6 months of madness and who knows what after that, but I won’t hold it against you. Today was just one of those days, just don’t use me as an excuse but remember you cannot be on top form every single day.

Dear Brain, do remember that we are in this together, we’re here for the long haul. Do remember to look at the things that we have done together, the adventures we are capable of having in the future and please stop focussing on the things that you feel are negative, the things that you feel we cannot do. No-one else sees it but you. No-one else cares about it but you. Just let it go and stop worrying for worry is a waste of precious energy and will get you nowhere.

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I won’t hold any of the above against you, I promise. You are great at kicking Negative Nelly to the curb and letting Positive Polly sing. You are great at encouraging everyone else to do so too, so take a piece of your own advice and just keep putting one foot in front of the other.

Yours sincerely, Legs x

PS Brain - if we weren't strong, if we didn't work together, we would not have been able to do this, just remember that too.

 

 

 

 

Talking the talk.....

....having walked the walk.

Photo courtesy of Giant Peach Agency

Photo courtesy of Giant Peach Agency

I have just spent the last hour early this Monday morning typing up a long blog about my talks, about spreading the word about said talks and have just hit the delete button. Short and sweet is the way forward on this occasion for these reasons....

1 - you probably don't have the time at the moment to read a long waffle about my talks!

2 - all the details are already nicely conveyed on the Public Speaking page on here.

3 - word of mouth recommendations are the most effective marketing tool so if you have heard me speak and liked what you heard, then please can you pass on my name to your contacts.

4 - I am crowdfunding earn the funds to finish climbing the 7 summits for children's mental health charity Place2Be and talks are a win/win to achieve this goal and so much more.

5 - what's the more? It's a great story with many ups, downs, twists and turns. A story of resilience, of going from a no saying, risk averse, height hating sofa surfer to standing on top of Everest via an earthquake and many bumps along the way and to be an advocate and a champion to anyone who thinks that they are not capable of achieving more, because if I can, they can too.

Photo courtesy of SayYesMore - Yestival2017

Photo courtesy of SayYesMore - Yestival2017

One year on...

1 whole year ago today...the day that I stood on top of my 5th of the 7 summits...the day I got to be a rock star on top of Denali....the day I realised a long held dream that I never thought was possible. Listen to my rather wobbly voice from the summit!

Summit Rock Stars

Summit Rock Stars

With 'just' 2 summits to go I'm focussing my efforts on raising the funds to climb first Carstensz Pyramid in Indonesia and then finally Mt Vinson in Antarctica. I have scaled down my crowd funding pages to show the target for 'just' CP and will raise funds for Vinson once CP is completed. I am aiming to do the expedition in late Jan/Feb 2019 so have a tight deadline to raise the funds, as per usual.

If you would like to add a few pennies into the expedition pot which already had a lovely £150 pledged, please head to:
https://www.justgiving.com/crowdfunding/jobradshaw

Or if you know a business who would like to take advantage of the corporate proposal, please click on:
https://www.gofundme.com/the-7-summits-for-place2be

And this is why I'm doing it: https://bit.ly/2x7GtaR

Did you know that I do talks too? Big motivational ones, corporate business themed ones, for schools, groups and at events. The more paid talks that I can deliver then the less funds I will need to raise via crowd funding. The more paid talks that I can do, the more I can fund this project myself. The more talks that I can do, the more chances I have to motivate and inspire a few more people to find their own Everest and the more awareness I can raise for children's mental health charity Place2Be. Please, spread the word and share the love.

Saying YES to something different

You may remember a couple of weeks ago I said that I was going to say yes to less? Well, I'm a firm believer in saying yes more, I just had the last word slightly out of kilter and was saying yes to everything to the detriment of a lot of things in my life. However, this is one opportunity I couldn't say no to!

'Hey Jo, it's Emms'

'Hey Emms, how's you? What's up?'

'Can you come down to The YesBus at the Brinsbury campus, Chichester College near Pulborough to do a photo shoot with Daisy and Lily for a family camping campaign for Go Outdoors?'

'ABSOLUTELY Emms! When? How soon? Now?!!'

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That's kind of how the conversation went although I couldn't type fast enough! Off I went a couple of Friday's ago, The Subtle Bus, dogs and me, up to GoOutdoors in Basingstoke to pick up a whole load of fabulous family camping kit picked out by Emms for the GoOutpaws campaign being put together by Dave and Emms of SayYesMore fame.

Roll on to Saturday morning with dogs primed, treats in pockets, tennis ball at the ready, we were raring to go!

Never work with children and animals they say and this was the first time that Dave had had to have the patience to photograph dogs, or more importantly my dogs! Daisy and Lily are well behaved for the most part and having arrived on the Friday evening for a BBQ and a bit of ball throwing they were used to their surroundings and the to-ings and fro-ings of things at The YesBus.

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Dave - 'Jo, can you 'just' get Daisy to sit facing me'

Me - 'Dave, have some treats and she'll do what ever you want!'

Daisy - too right!!

Just click on my picture to see more photos...Lily is in there too!

A fab morning was had pitching the 6 man tent, playing with the bubble maker, having a snack sitting on the fleece blanket and generally larking about with some super cool friends and my fabulous dogs. Both Daisy and Lily were Super Stars, just life as normal really (even if I do say so myself!)

And here is the result! From Wild Camping Outdoors to Comfort Camping with Go Outdoors! Yes, it's a sponsored piece but Dave won't write about things he's not totally 100% offay with so any families out there looking for camping kit, this is worth a read too!

Bimble - The Adventure Van with a Social Plan

With my new-to-me van, Bimble, well and truly in the family now and Bumble - The Subtle Bus, up for sale it's time to tell you what I have in store for my humble and currently white blank canvas of another Ford Transit.

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Getting a new van wasn't all about getting a new set of wheels for me. I've had Bumble for 8 years and she has served me well, starting off my career as a freelance outdoor instructor and expedition leader, but it was time for her to head off to adventures new. I have big plans for Bimble, plans which will push me out of my comfort zone, see us doing different and new things, wandering around the country meeting amazing people and going to places we have never been.

My idea of the 'van with a plan' came out of another idea I had of 'a walk in the woods with...' and as plans go, this one has grown long legs! My plan, which is still being worked on and worked up, is to meet up with amazing people who do totally different things to me but all with a theme of the outdoors, mental health, and spending a day in the life of.....

I'm keen to push my limits and learn new skills, to highlight outdoor adventures that you can get involved in and promote just how easy it is to simply get outside. The outdoors is so good for your mental health and as I am fundraising and supporting children's mental health charity Place2Be, mental health is so important to me. 

I've managed to persuade (not that there was much persuading needed!) the following bunch of amazing adventure makers to agree to my social plan and have many more to contact and schedule in. Here are the first few who have said YES:

Beth French - ocean swimmer extraordinaire. We've chatted about going open water swimming at night - eeek! Check out Beth at www.bethfrench.co.uk 

Making pants with ocean swimmer Beth French. Thanks to Bex Hughes for getting oceans and mountains in the same room!

Making pants with ocean swimmer Beth French. Thanks to Bex Hughes for getting oceans and mountains in the same room!

Andy Bartlett - long distance adventurer, film maker, DofE advocate and paddle board enthusiast. Andy has taken on the challenge of teaching me to stand up paddle board and even mentioned a 5 day expedition with rapids.....again...eeeek! Check Andy out at www.followandy.co.uk 

David Willis - bush craft and wilderness expert who teaches adults and children the wonders of the woods. He'll be teaching me how to make bread on a camp fire, how to whittle my own cutlery and how to eat safely in nature. I can't wait! Check David out at www.davidwillis.info

David Love - as an adventurer, mountaineer another DofE advocate, David and I twirl in similar circles but he has so much to teach me. He'll be taking me through the more extreme areas of wilderness survival. I see dodgy things on the dinner plate coming up! Check this David out at www.loveadventure.co.uk

The Yes Bus - 'a day in the life' at this fabulous SayYesMore base at Brinsbury College, Pulborough. This is a haven for peace and quiet, of learning and sharing. So much goes on here and I'll learn all about it one day soon. Check it all out at www.sayyesmore.com

Now, before anyone says anything I know this amazing line up is a tad male heavy but that's because these are people that I've just been in touch with so far. I have a long list of uber ladies who I want to get to know more and for you to get to know them too. I'll be asking people who you may know well and those who may be new to you but that's the joy of this project!

Now, back to Adventure Van Bimble. A great friend is decking her out whilst I am on a school's expedition in Bolivia with True Adventure in July however I need to use her as a camper before then for work and play so I thought I would buy some apple crates, use them in the van and when they are no longer needed on my wheels, then they will become shelving and planting boxes. 

Bimble will be taking her first real adventure at the inaugural Top of the Gorge festival from 22-24 June. Check out the weekend here and come along if you have the weekend free. There will be so much to do and so many amazing adventurers to listen to including Anna McNuff, Dave Cornthwaite, Sian Anna Lewis, David Love and Mel Nicholls to name just a few fabulous speakers. Daisy and Lily will be there too and I'm sure will be happy for a few cuddles and the odd throw of a tennis ball!

Onto the van plan....this is going to be some project! If you have a skill in the outdoors which you would like to be part of this project then please do get in touch with me - jobradshaw2010@aol.co.uk 

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To check out Bumble - The Subtle Bus, who is for sale please click here 100% of this money will go towards the expedition costs of #6 of the 7 summits Carstensz Pyramid and will help me to raise further funds and awareness for children's mental health charity Place2Be

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Mission Self-Destruct: successfully aborted

I think since Dad passed away nearly 6 months ago I’ve been on Mission Self-Destruct. I’d had a very busy 2017 so was living on the edge anyway when he became seriously ill before passing away and since then have been trying to fill every gap of time with work to keep my mind from coming to the realisation that he is not coming back.

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I’ve been booking in extra bits of work to boost my poorly bank balance, extra pieces of free stuff to help people out, flitting here, there and everywhere, taking on things that I never thought were in my grasp, being part of events that make me pinch myself, and maybe, just maybe, saying yes too much fearing that if I say no then I will miss out on the next best thing.

When giving my ‘go get ‘em’ talk at Buckingham Palace last week, I said to both of my Gold DofE groups that I feel like I’ve only scratched the surface of what I am capable of doing now that I realise that I am capable. That I’ve just started on this bonkers journey although I changed my life a decade ago and have worked my socks off since then to make my life sustainable. I think that maybe I’ve been living the ‘say yes now and work it out later’ vibe on steroids and have forgotten that rest is just as important, for my body and for my mind.

When leading trips, whether they are a one-dayer or last a few weeks I, like many leaders I know, give absolutely everything. You have every part of me for that period of time and gone are the days when I could come home and hide in my own little world, but that is certainly no complaint. Climbing Everest has added something to my life that has been beyond my comprehension and now trying to complete the last 2 of the 7 summits, life really is on hyper drive to achieve the funding needed both for the cost of the expeditions and to further fundraise for children's mental health charity Place2Be.

I’m all for gaining the most out of this one, short, precious life we lead but that actually, doing absolutely nothing is also part of gaining that ‘most’, to absorb what has been achieved and to get ready for the next.

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I was supposed to have driven up to North Wales on Sunday afternoon to get prepared for my International Mountain Leader summer training course which starts on Wednesday. The course kicks off with a speed navigation test which needs to be passed. My nav is good but I wanted to go into the course bomb proof with a clear and open mind, not knackered with a fuggy brain that is too tired to remember the word ‘contour’ or ‘spot height’.

This course is just the start of another chapter of my life and a very important one at that. There are only 600 registered IMLs in this country and my goal is to be one of that slowly growing number. The IML doesn’t mean another tick in the box of my outdoor qualifications. There is nothing wrong with being a Mountain Leader, I’m very proud of that qual, but my experience in the outdoors and my quals don’t match up so it was time to address the balance. I also want to boost my knowledge, to keep learning and to meet a new group of like-minded people but it can wait and for me, has to wait.

I made the decision to put the brakes on to this non-stop route to a car crash and have mixed feelings about it, but I know that I have made the right decision. Putting something so important on hold is a good thing, is the right thing, for me.

In the last 6 months and more I haven’t stopped and it’s taking a toll on my body and on my mind. I was zoning out on the sofa this morning before a nice relaxed walk with my girls when this post from uber human Megan Hine popped up and cemented my mind:


‘I’ve just been reading Stephen Hawking’s ‘Brief history of time’. Wow! 
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Did you know a star is formed from a huge cloud of dust & gas? Under immense pressure it collapses and out of this grows a star. 
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Maybe just like the formation of a star we too need to collapse from time to time to emerge from the dusty cloud in all our resilient glory’

Please don’t get me wrong. I absolutely love my job and all it entails, and I am by no means complaining for I have said yes to all of this. I am so blessed to have the opportunities that I have through bloody mindedness and a huge amount of hard work and dedication to keep bashing on when so many barriers are popped up in my way, but I do need time to breath. My house is a mess, I keep losing things and forgetting words, in a hurry all the time, my garden is a little too much on the wild side, I feel unfit and groggy, bouncing from job to job, from coffee to coffee and from one chocolate brownie to another and it’s time to sort that out.

I was wearing my comfy Salomon trainers this morning and thought, these trainers were made for running and running they shall do. So, tomorrow morning the girls and I will be out doing a short jog to get things going. I will gradually tidy up my house and tame my garden, I shall work on getting my van sold and refitting my new one. I will slowly work on the crowd funding, both the business and personal campaigns and will complete the things that people have asked me to do and said yes to but then learn to start saying no once in a while, as hard as that will be, but saying no is ok to do, people do understand. Believe me, I'm still a huge advocate of the Say Yes More way of life however there is definitely a balance to be made, it doesn't say 'say yes to everything'. 

As much as I love my single life, I don't want to be on my own forever and don't just want to fit someone in. I want to meet an extraordinary adventure partner in crime and if I'm running around like a headless chicken, who is going to want to come near me!

T-shirt courtesy of www.sayyesmore.com 

T-shirt courtesy of www.sayyesmore.com 

Protecting my mental health is so important to me, I need to practice what I preach, and do as I teach. I want to lessen the black fog, cut out the migraines and come to terms with the fact that Dad has left a great legacy, I just need to protect it. Dealing with grief is tricky, it's like the weather and is constantly changeable and like a river, it just needs to run its course. 

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Spreading the love and the load

Ok, so here it is....a big deep breath....crowdfunding time!

As some of you know, my Everest and Denali climbs were funded privately by a very generous company who wanted no promotion bar me raising as many funds for children's mental health charity Place2Be and I did just that.

Over the past 3 1/2 years we, yes a HUGE 'WE', have raised over £23,000 for Place2Be as well as raising awareness for children's mental health and mental health in general.

With 5 of the 7 summits completed, namely Aconcagua, Kilimanjaro, Mt Elbrus, Denali and Everest I 'just' have Carstensz Pyramid and Mt Vinson to complete.

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I am now looking to share the love and spread the cost (quite rightly too) so I am seeking support from a bigger net. I have now set up both a business and personal crowdfunding page to harness good will and help me to complete this bonkers goal of being the 10th British woman to have stood on top of all 7 summits and more importantly to take Place2Be with me too.

A kindly request - if you know of anyone who may be interested in putting a few or many pennies in the pot then please pass on my page details. Both pages will go up on my website shortly and I will certainly keep raising funds for the charity alongside these pages too. Without the climbs the fundraising decreases so, to me, they work hand in hand and as always, you will all get something in return for your hard earned cash.

And don't worry - I'm not trying to raise £120k! For every pound raised on one page, the amount needed will decrease on the other, if that makes sense!

Thanks for reading my warblings once again and here's to inspiring a few more people to think 'if she can do it then so can I'

Personal:
https://www.justgiving.com/crowdfunding/jobradshaw

Business:
https://www.gofundme.com/the-7-summits-for-place2be

And to see why this is so important to me, please click on the video below:

The waiting game is over, it's time to climb!

2 years ago and we were actually on our way back down from Camp 3 after an aborted summit attempt on Everest having been advised that the weather was turning for the worse and we would have to wait a little longer, back at base camp. 

Not the radio comms you really want to have given the effort it takes to get up to Camp 3 at 7000m, after you were all set for the push to summit the following 24 hrs, the last 40 days of great work and the mental highs and lows behind you, we were ready and raring to go. However, you can't beat or cheat the weather, especially at 8000m, so down we came to base camp at 5350m to enjoy 2 days of 'relative' luxury with a bucket shower, more oxygen (at 45% of the norm at sea level I did say it was relative!) and some fairly warm days before we headed back up on 16th to reach the summit 3 days later.

This coming weekend, on the night of 18/19 May, I will be taking a group of charity fundraisers on a night time ascent of Snowdon, at 1085m the highest mountain in Wales. I'm sure for many, this will be their own Everest and as leader of a highly motivated and experienced team supporting our trekkers, we are really privileged to be part of enabling their dream and helping to raise funds for a worthy cause.

2 years ago on 18 May I was heading out into the night time to climb to the summit of Everest early the following morning. I've been watching the posts on Facebook from many of the teams out on the mountain at the moment and with the ropes fixed to the summit of the south side this Sunday afternoon by a highly experienced team of Sherpas, the route is open and the waiting game is over....almost!

As with our expedition in 2016 (we won't dwell on the schedule of 2015!), you start with Plan A and gradually work your way down the alphabet hoping you don't run out of letters. The weather plays a big part of any expedition, especially on an 8000er, as does fitness, logistics, health, what other teams are up to and the temptation to rush for the gates and try to head up with the crowds is high.

We weren't planning on climbing with the crowds but some things are out of your control and on the night of our ascent we shared the route to the summit with 180 fellow climbers and Sherpas, the high numbers due to severe weather the 24 hrs before holding many climbers at the South Col.

As I often remind people who are moaning about how busy it is/the crowds/the queues are, I was part of those numbers, we all make up those numbers and we still made it.

A huge best of luck, safe climbing, safe descending and happy memories to some great friends on the mountain at the moment and to everyone on both the south and north sides of Everest. Hold your nerve, don't rush it as you need to save every ounce of energy, ignore what everyone else is doing and stick to your own game plane.

Savour the moments and remember, just one foot in front of the other is all it takes as it's only the next step that counts. The same advice in this paragraph goes to my charity fundraisers this weekend on your own Everest in Wales.

Who knows, our climb up Snowdon may inspire one or two to go higher, just like my first challenge for charity did way back in 2003. #thisgirlcan #youcantoo 

Going for Bronze, Silver and Gold

A couple of weeks ago my Mum found my DofE book from 1986. I remember some of my Bronze Award from the cooking to the first aid and I definitely remember the monster-sized blisters on my heels at the end of a very hot 2-day expedition. I got a satisfactory for that expedition so I clearly had some work to do!

Roll on 32 years and I am now not only instructing and assessing DofE participants from the start of their DofE journey at Bronze through to Gold and very proudly handing out certificates to Gold Award achievers at Buckingham and St James’s Palace. Who’d have thought this satisfactory girl would kick her inner lazy into touch to climb mountains and hopefully inspire some of our next generation of adventurers.

DofE Gold Awards presentation at St. James’s Palace. December 2018

DofE Gold Awards presentation at St. James’s Palace. December 2018

The Duke of Edinburgh’s Award (DofE) has been running for 62 years now and has had a hugely positive impact on many millions of youngsters around the world in those years. I was fortunate enough to go to the Diamond Anniversary Service of Thanksgiving at Westminster Abbey in November 2016 and listened to not only The Earl of Wessex give a heartfelt speech but heard from DofE Award holders of how their DofE programme has had an impact on their lives, one of whom had been a young offender and has since gone on the straight and narrow thanks, in part, to the structure and learning opportunities given by the DofE  and those involved.

When I was invited to present for the first time at St James’s Palace in November 2015, my now dearly departed Father jokingly (in part I’m sure) asked me to give his regards to the Duke and say ‘you’ve done a grand job Sir’. I obviously didn’t but I totally understand my Father’s sentiments.

Since its creation in 1956 over 2.7 million students in the UK between the ages of 14 and 24 have been presented with their DofE Award from over 6 million starters including over 1.7 million Bronze, 660,000 Silver and 276,000 Gold Award holders. From the students who start their DofE journey, 4.5% are presented with their Gold Award.

A Gold Award is challenging for a good reason, it’s not called a Gold Award for nothing. Most students will go through their Gold during their A level years, so time is at a premium and the pressure is on. It takes dedication and commitment to work towards this award through the five elements which include a 4-day expedition, 5-day residential, 12-month volunteering, and physical and skills elements which are 12 and 6 months long, each for a day per week as an average.

So why do students put themselves through this during their hardest school years? Because they want to be part of that 4.5% and to have something truly amazing on their CV and have something truly amazing in their lives. A Gold Award holds gravitas. Universities take into account the hard work that doing a DofE programme takes to complete, employers take into account the commitment it takes to complete, and the students really understand the dedication that they need to put in to be part of that small percentage.

When I climbed Everest in 2015 I didn’t want the climb just to be about one mountain and me, but to be about others too and to be able to give a great opportunity to share Nepal and our acclimatisation with a group of six Gold DofE participants. As their residential we trekked to Everest Base Camp and climbed 6000m peak Lobuche East (amongst a great team of friends and clients) and all six students benefited hugely from this experience. I will be posting up their stories on my website shortly, they are all truly inspiring in themselves.

My fabulous DofE Gold team at the Tenzing Norgay memorial, above Namche Bazaar, Nepal. April 2015

My fabulous DofE Gold team at the Tenzing Norgay memorial, above Namche Bazaar, Nepal. April 2015

If you have a teenager who is looking to do that bit extra or if you have employees who are looking to push themselves that bit farther then encourage them to sign up for their Duke of Edinburgh’s Award. From doing my Bronze Award when I was 15 to seeing it all from an instructor’s viewpoint and assessing all three Award levels as part of my work with Adventure Training & Expeditions, and for the last three years presenting at the Gold Awards in my 40’s, I can guarantee is it totally worth it. To see why businesses love it too - click here to see why!

Gold Awards presentation at Buckingham Palace, May 2018

Gold Awards presentation at Buckingham Palace, May 2018