Three peaks on three wheels in three days — that’s the epic challenge facing a former para-athlete as he prepares for the charity event of a lifetime to raise money — and awareness — in the fight against children’s brain tumours.
Wheelchair user Will Blanche will be undertaking a test of almost Herculean proportions as he attempts to become the first person ever to complete a three Peaks Challenge using a custom made three-wheel hand-bike.
The challenge, which will take place from Friday July 4 to Sunday July 6, will see Will, of Sandiacre in Derbyshire, battling to scale Ben Nevis in Scotland, Snowdonia in Wales and Skiddaw in the Lake District. He will be pedalling his way up the steep gradients using only his hands and the weight of his upper body to steer.
Will, who was born with spina bifida, played wheelchair basketball for around 15 years and represented Great Britain in javelin in his youth. However, he admits that he is facing his toughest challenge yet.
He said: “I’ve always been an active person and I know that I have still got the drive and determination within me to see this through. Training has been hard but I have put the hours in at the gym and we have had several dry runs on the mountains so I’m confident that I am on target.
“I have also got the best motivation to succeed — to raise awareness about brain tumours and their devastating effects. I knew Jessica through my wife who was a close family friend and her diagnosis knocked us all for six. No parent should outlive their child and my determination comes from wanting to do something for the foundation and in memory of Jess.”
Jessica Hope Gauntley of Long Eaton, Nottingham, was 15 when she was diagnosed with an Anaplastic Astrocytoma — an aggressive form of brain cancer — in April 2012. Despite a number of operations to remove the tumour, weeks of radiotherapy and months of chemotherapy at Nottingham’s Children’s Hospital, she lost her battle against the disease just 10 months later in February 2013.
Her parents John and Dr Karen Gauntley established the Jessica Hope Foundation in memory of their daughter to raise public awareness of the signs and symptoms of brain tumours in children and young adults, to brighten the lives of young people living with cancer and to fund vital research into the prevention, treatment and cure of brain tumours in young people.
Among the charities which the foundation supports are CBTRC, where Jess took part in research while receiving treatment for her tumour, and Headsmart, a national brain tumour awareness campaign involving experts from CBTRC.
Since Jessica’s death last year, the foundation has already donated a total of £70,000 to the CBTRC.
Professor David Walker, Co-Director of the CBTRC, is a keen hill walker and cyclist, which has given him a better insight than most into the sheer scale of the challenge facing Will.
He said: “I think it’s totally bonkers. Will is going to be using only his hands to pedal and it is going to be extremely tough. It’s a very unique thing that he is doing and I am in awe of his commitment.
“It is the generation of funds and awareness by donors like Will, which translate into research and ultimately tangible benefits for patients themselves. It is part of a chain in which we all play a part and are working towards the same goal — to reduce the devastating burden which this disease places on the children and young people whose lives it affects and their families.”
Will, who works in the Sports and Recreation department at Charnwood Borough Council in Leicestershire, will be attempting his challenge using a hand-bike which has been paid for by his regular wheelchair provider RGK Wheelchairs
. Nicknamed The Mountain Beast, the bike has been custom made to his specific measurements by the Hampshire company Team Hybrid
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Professor David Walker will be riding in memory of Jessica Hope Gauntley in August this year when he joins a team of other cyclists, including the University’s Vice-Chancellor Professor Sir David Greenaway, aiming to cycle to the four corners of Great Britain as part of the Life Cycle 4