2013 Hadrian’s Wall Trek for Limbpower
In early May an unusual group of trekkers gathered to pit themselves against the coast-to-coast challenge presented by the Hadrian’s Wall National Trail. Five lower-limb amputees supported by a physio and a prosthetist hoped to cross more than ninety miles of rugged terrain over the next six days, staying in safari-style tents each night. Our aim? Proving to ourselves and others that such a feat would be possible and to raise money for Limbpower, a charity that organises sporting events for the ambulatory disabled. Of the five amputees in the group, two had lost legs below the knee, two above the knee, and we had a through-ankle amputee for completeness! To mitigate the difficulties associated with my own above-knee amputation I am lucky enough to have a ‘bionic’ microprocessor-controlled prosthetic knee which attaches via a bone-implant, negating the need for a socket, but I was still expecting the trek to be tough!
After assembling in the afternoon prior to the start of the trek at a campsite just over a mile down the trail, we decided to get the first mile out of the way so headed to the pub! Trail completion was evidenced by collecting seven stamps in our ‘trail passports’ obtainable from the start, five points along the trail, then at the finish. The first stamp was available at ‘The King’s Arms’, located conveniently close to the head of the trail, so off we went. After getting to know each other over a fortifying drink, we reluctantly set off into the damp weather to start our journey.
Over the next couple of days we settled into our walking routine. The first mile in the rain on the previous day was the worst weather that we would experience and the following morning greeted us with the sunshine to which we would gratefully get accustomed. Day one was a flatish eight miles that took us from the west coast to the outskirts of Carlisle. This allowed our group to ease in to its stride, preparing us for the more challenging seventeen mile distance of day two. Unfortunately day two saw our first casualty of the walk as poorly timed health issues forced one of our amputees to settle subsequently for intermittent participation. We did however manage to pick up the second of our precious stamps as the anticipation of finally seeing some wall on day three grew!
The third day of the trek was when it began to get serious. Over the next seventeen miles we moved from gentle rolling green fields, via our first wall ruins, to the seriously steep, wall-crossed crags that would dominate the middle part of the trail. By the time the campsite was reached that evening we just about had the energy to shower, order takeaway and retire in a subdued manner to the pub. Sadly we’d also had to say goodbye to our prosthetist as he had work commitments that couldn’t be changed. The fourth day crossed more extremely-hilly terrain which included an initial climb to the highest point of the trail and continued with a further twelve miles of crag torture. Fortunately the spectacular countryside and group camaraderie made up for the soreness that was inevitably becoming more apparent in the groups feet and stumps. A lift to the pub had been arranged for that evening and it was a relief that no further walking was required when the campsite had been achieved.
My prosthetic knee had coped amazingly well with the rough terrain of the previous days. The responsiveness of the electronics ensured that I didn’t have to think too carefully about what I was doing, allowing me to enjoy the scenery we had passed through. I could also ‘ride’ the knee yield even on uneven descents, ensuring that my real knee was not over-stressed. I felt confident that the last two days would go well and I would be celebrating at the finish with my fellow trekkers.
Despite day five requiring a further fifteen miles of walking, spirits were high in the morning as we descended from the last of the serious crags and settled back in to the more gentle terrain that would see us to the finish. Our final evening meal of the trek required us to stop a couple of miles short of the campsite and we celebrated getting that far with a well-deserved round of Newcastle Brown Ale! The final day presented the longest distance of the trek, which we faced with a tight deadline as one of our participants had a train to catch. An earlier than usual start set us up for the day and by mid-morning we were in the outskirts of Newcastle. After negotiating the popular quayside area, the last few miles of the trek were a relentless slog through an industrial estate. We pushed on through the soreness and monotony, making it to the finish just in time. After quickly collecting the passport-completing final stamp the group began to disperse and the remaining four retired to a local hostelry for refreshment and reflection. Being an amputee makes daily life generally more difficult but we had brought our personal challenges to a significantly challenging environment and overcame both whilst having a tiring but enjoyable adventure! I wonder what we shall try next?
Daily distances in miles (not including any extra walking):
Day 0 – 1.33
Day 1 – 8.45
Day 2 – 17.24
Day 3 – 17.08
Day 4 – 12.40
Day 5 – 15.33
Day 6 – 18.42
Total – 90.25
Update – 14th May 2013
After a magnificent effort by all concerned I am pleased to confirm a successful conclusion to our trek along Hadrian’s Wall.
My usual instinct when it comes to reporting the outcome of adventures is simply to describe what happened on a day-by-day basis. After spending six days with such a remarkable group of people I thought it would be more appropriate to briefly describe each of the trek participants.
Some context: we walked in excess of ninety miles over the course of approximately six days, crossing the country via some seriously tough terrain. Prior to the trek there was a reasonable amount of interest but the prospect of the magnitude of the challenge and its linear nature served to put off all but the most determined amputees.
Andy – below-knee amputee
This was not the first adventure that Andy and I have shared and hopefully it won’t be the last. Currently living in Holland, Andy’s ability to train on hills for the trek were somewhat limited! Despite clearly being pretty tired at times, his cheerful determination and resolute ‘tip-top’ response to enquiries regarding his well-being set the tone for the trip. Occasional pauses for ‘stump management’ characterise Andy dealing with his amputation and I’m sure that the rest of the team now fully understand why I was so pleased that Andy was able to participate. My wife and I think Andy is one of the most mentally and physically tough individuals we have ever met and we were never in doubt that he would make it to the end. As usual, he didn’t disappoint.
Helen – through-ankle amputee
Never having trekked before, quintessential Essex girl Helen used her boundless enthusiasm to overcome both her lack of hill experience and a significant aversion to steep paths in exposed settings (of which there were plenty in the middle part of the wall!). In my opinion, bravery is being scared of something but doing it anyway. Helen’s determination showed that under that fun exterior beats a brave heart, which she put to excellent use whizzing along the length of the wall. Her enthusiasm for sport and fitness stood her in good stead, allowing her to complete our adventure despite the limits of the simple prosthetic imposed by her amputation and the significant pain from her real toes getting progressively more injured as the days went on. Helen said that she really enjoyed the hills so I’m hoping to persuade her to join us on future adventures.
Ian – prosthetist
Unfortunately Ian was unable to move a pre-existing commitment that required his presence for the latter half of the trek. Despite only being available for the first three days, Ian travelled up to Hadrian’s Wall country to ensure his expertise got the amputees off to a good start. After thankfully being required to perform only a small amount of minor tweaking, it was with great sadness that the group said goodbye to Ian. Not only was he a good companion to walk with, he also got us chips one evening when we thought all sources of food were closed.
Kat – physio
Unknown to any of us prior to the trek, Kat soon became a welcome and vital part of the group. Not only handy with a map and compass, Kat was also willing to practice her medical skills on the numerous sore bits that were accumulated over the days of walking. ‘Kat’s Clinic’ was opened at 0715 on the last few of days of walking and I am sure that this level of care had a significant impact on the welfare and morale of the group. A willingness to try local ales in the evening also proved popular and we forced ourselves to emulate this interest! Hailing originally from the vicinity of Newcastle, Kat was also able to impart a wealth of local geographical and pronunciation knowledge during the last day of the trek that surely facilitated our speedy progression through the city.
Mick – above-knee amputee
Prior to the trek, Mick and I had corresponded regarding various aspects of one-legged walking and I was eagerly anticipating meeting a fellow above-knee amputee who enjoys the hills as much as myself. Over the course of the trek my respect for Mick grew exponentially. Using a relatively basic mechanical knee and a conventional socket, he redefined what I thought was possible for an above-knee amputee and resolutely refused to concede that he was doing anything special (stubborn git!). On the last day in particular, he pushed through what even he thought might be impossible, despite five days of accumulated wear on his body, in order to ensure the group’s finish deadline was met. It was a humble privilege for me to walk with someone who has modestly overcome the limits of their amputation in such a spectacular fashion.
Steve – below-knee amputee
This was Steve’s first foray into the world of trekking and he gave it his all. Unfortunately he fell victim to ill-timed issues with his health that prevented his full participation. Despite not being able to walk the wall in a continuous fashion he remained loyal to the group and joined us whenever geography allowed. In the evenings Steve selflessly provided access to amenities that wouldn’t have been possible without his car and he stuck with us to the end. I hope that Steve will join us for further adventures and, under more fortuitous circumstances, I’m sure his determination will pay dividends.
Me – above-knee amputee
There’s enough about me on this site already so I’ll keep this short. The terrain rendered the trek more challenging than I anticipated but my ITAP and rheo proved once more to be up to the task. I enjoyed every moment walking with this group and hope to repeat the experience in the not too distant future.
Our achievement of following the entire Hadrian’s Wall path across the country in a very creditable six days makes me feel very proud of us as a group. I don’t believe that many able-bodied observers or ‘ordinary’ amputees believed that such an achievement would be possible. Our group’s amputations spanned a range of extent, each with their own challenges, and our prosthetics utilised different fixation methods. This served to emphasise that a determined and prepared amputee can achieve amazing feats regardless of their disability and the technology they utilise. The phrase ‘redefining the possible’ can truly be said to apply to our group. I hope that in years to come, those amputees that doubt they will ever overcome their own particular challenges will be able to look at our triumph over Hadrian’s Wall (and possible subsequent adventures!) and know it is not a folly to aspire to achieve great things. I’d like to once again thank all the amputees for making our adventure extraordinary and for Kat and Ian for making the extraordinary a possibility.
Updates – During the Trek!
Update – 23rd April 2013
We have an itinerary and route!
View Hadrian’s Wall 2013 in a larger map
Update 4th April 2013
Although pretty last minute, there are still currently a couple of places left on the trek. If you’d like to join the adventure get in touch with either LimbPower or myself as soon as possible.
Hadrian’s Wall Trek 2013
In early May, myself and a group composed of five other amputees, a physio and a prosthetist, will be navigating the 84-mile length of the Hadrian’s Wall national trail over six days. I hope to show that ordinary amputees can achieve amazing feats and raise money for disability charity LimbPower in the process.