2020 has so far brought us a pandemic, a lockdown, economic recession, political unrest, growing racial tensions and the creeping environmental catastrophe of global warming and ocean plastic pollution. I think it’s fair to say that things haven’t gone as hoped so far for the year. Not quite an apocalypse, but it’s felt that way for many at various times.
Particularly hard hit has been the small cohort of disabled children at St Elizabeth’s, in a little village in Hertfordshire. Most suffer from social exclusion, serious health conditions and some form of developmental delay. Their lives are difficult. They are already socially distanced from society by their conditions and that won’t stop in a month or two. For them this is their life. On top of that, many live in constant pain and suffer restricted motor control and a variety of conditions that impede communication.
As Corona virus took hold (which could very well be fatal to many of the children) there was a sudden need to isolate them further from the few freedoms they had. No visitors, no family, no interaction between them and other classmates, no cuddles from staff, just more isolation. unable to understand what was going on or why, many have had an extremely difficult time. For them, this was apocalyptic.
Despite this the St Elizabeth’s centre is a genuinely happy go lucky place, filled with love and support. The accommodation is bright, and, in normal times, the school is welcoming and fun. Much like Great Ormond Street Hospital another charity we have supported. I sometimes walk the corridors wondering quite how they achieve it given the circumstances of the children they care for. It’s quite remarkable really. As with most similar facilities the centre attempts to give the children the very best life they can and developing their physical wellbeing, motor skills and general health are right at the top of their to do lists.
Hydrotherapy plays a critical role in this. The weightless environment suspends the disabilities of many for a short time, and the warm water soothes and relaxes muscles that are often contracted and distorted through seizures and involuntary neurological signals or other abnormalities. Having seen first-hand the expressions of joy and relief that explode from these children as they are lowered into the Hydrotherapy pools I can promise you that they are a lifeboat in the rough seas of their lives. The physiotherapists that work in these environments speak enthusiastically about the physical benefits, the progress they can make without gravity holding them back and the freedoms this affords. The thing that always strikes me though is the smiles that hydrotherapy pools bring. If your life is one of pain and disability, being socially distanced permanently and having precious few moments of joy, being pain free and swimming with others is just outright fun not really physiotherapy at all. More a form of therapy for the soul maybe?
Sadly, St Elizabeth’s doesn’t have a hydrotherapy pool. They have the space, the staff, the access and the desire for one, but not enough money to build one. Yet. At present they can only take about 4 children once a week to a Hydrotherapy pool about 25 miles away in Cambridgeshire. This involves most of the day being taken up in preparation, planning, travel, and is hugely expensive but they still do it because the benefits for those children are so big. Knowing this makes it even sadder that over 90% of the children at the centre never get to go. There are only so many hands, buses and only so much money available. My son is one of the few that does. His condition is so severe and his need such that he fits into the strict criteria used to decide who goes. Once a week isn’t nearly enough, but at least he gets that. Every time I get an update about his therapy or see him in the pool my heart aches for the kids that are missing out. Someone had to do something.
This led to me asking the question: “What is the smallest amount of money you would need in order to finance the rest so you could build a Hydrotherapy on site and offer this therapy to all the children?” After meeting with the head of the school and Kat Collis (their senior fundraiser), I got the answer – £100,000.
It’s a huge number. but once I had it, I couldn’t stop thinking about the joy the pool would bring to so many kids. I needed a plan.
The next few months were spent beavering away speaking to potential sponsors, businesses and influential people about the possibility of running a huge project to raise it. Trying to get a project like this off the floor is a monumental task. It can be all consuming and incredibly difficult thing to organise in normal times, but in the middle of a pandemic its bordering on impossible. Bordering on, but thankfully not impossible. After talks with some big hitters in the business world I was able to secure enough support to get my idea up and running and it was then that I made the call to my good friend and adventure buddy Arron:
“Hello mate, wanna row the Pacific?”
“sorry, you’ve lost me….”
“That’s how fast I can be at yours…… Hydrotherapy pool?”
“I knew that had been bothering you. Its been bothering me too…..”
We sat and dispatched some rum and discussed the plan as it stood at that time and chewed over the sticky problem of the rest of the team. Darren Baker had been in Brazil with us in 2009 and Peru in 2014 and Simon Evans was an ex GB rower and friend who I knew had a lifelong ambition to row an ocean. Both are driven, capable and most importantly team players. Their personalities fit the attributes we believed were required for the team dynamic to work. Discussions took place over the next few weeks as both have significant business interests and wives that needed to be consulted prior to them being able to fully commit. A short time later everything was agreed, and we had our four oarsmen.
Next up we needed a fifth. Matt knight who had been with us in 2016 had already agreed to run the Jungle Ultra in Peru again and was committed to that project. But, after a quick call he agreed to put the team first in the event of a disaster and step in as our fifth man should it be required to keep the project afloat (if you will excuse the pun). In the event he isn’t required he pledged to run the jungle under the Endurance Limits banner and raise funds for our cause. “I love being a part of the team. I want to be involved however I can mate. Let’s get those kids what they need”.
That desire to make a difference and the feeling of being a part of something special, giving everything to the group, this is the attitude that’s required to make big projects like this work. It is what Endurance Limits is all about. Attracting people with that same mindset is essential.
Not everyone can be in the boat. In fact, not many would even want too (especially with some of us!), but everyone can be a part of the team in one way or another. Helping us drive this project forward, to fundraise with us, to donate their own personal skills and time.
The world is chaotic at the moment. It feels fractured in some way. Life is hard for a great many people and the dark cloud of Corona Virus looms over us all. What better time to stand up, commit to something positive and set about helping vulnerable disabled children?
We have our cause. We have our team. We have 2700 miles of Ocean to row.
This is where our story starts. Join us throughout our journey and together we really can make a difference.