Tuesday, 4 June 2013

Popeye Harris and his Kilimanjaro Training

At 67 years of age, most people would be expecting John to be slowing down a bit. Not a bit of it! In all aspects of his life, he still gives 100%. The only difference is that the impact of long days or extreme effort, take a little bit more out of him. Expending that effort day after day whilst climbing Kilimanjaro, will make for an interesting challenge.

In the last couple of weeks John has maintained his training schedule, a mix of weight sessions twice a week and increasing the duration of the weekend pushes.

Increasingly in demand to give keynote addresses and inspirational talks, John finds the motivation to train when most us would be looking to snatch a quick 20 minute doze in front of the TV. In a typical week he travelled to Cheltenham to speak to students at a college as a key member of a programme called, 'Driving Inspiration.' He then spent all day at the University of South Wales helping to promote disability sport, and put in a few days at Fullcircle, helping Mark and the team get a few new leads.

On Sunday, some of the team got together for the next round of team training. For the first time we were able to sport our brand new Kilimanjaro Challenge T Shirts which turned out to be a hit with the various people who stopped to talk to us on our walk. It was nice to see hear people asking just how the heck was he going to do that? We find ourselves asking that question too!!

Our chosen route was a relatively gentle walk along the canal bank from Pontypool to Goytre Wharf and back, a total distance of about 22 kms, but one John could do without assistance. Apart from a stop to enjoy some traditional Italian fair at the Wharf, total walk time was about three and a half hours, a pace much quicker than we will be able to achieve on Kilimanjaro. The route along the canal path is fantastic, especially as this part of the canal is well used by day trippers in their barges.

A heron keeps us company for the first two miles, a huge bird, with an eye for a quick catch. In amongst fellow walkers, joggers and families out on their bikes, we come across a young family of ducks in Red Arrows formation enjoying a mid morning swim. The mother is no where to be seen, but we're sure she wont be far away. As we near Goytre Wharf, the number of boats increases, and their occupants range form young families to a group of 'mature' ladies enjoying a glass of wine as they chug quietly by. In his usual boyish and impish manner, John shares a comment or a joke with everyone who passes, and he never fails to put a smile on everyone's face.

After a relaxing lunch at half way, we all wait just long enough to start to stiffen up, all of us except John of course. He's off and running, ready to pull wheelies and make sharp turns for the amusement of the children who look at him as though is a circus clown. The best is yet to come!

Leaving the cafe, there is a sharp downhill pathway leading to a walkway where we re-join the canal bank. At 67 I'm thinking this really should be past him, but John gets to the top and lurches his wheelchair onto the steep downward slope quickly accelerating to about 30 m.p.h. There are elderly people at the bottom who hear him coming and look urgently in his direction with an incredulous look. He rushes past them, across a less than perfect cross junction, up the opposite side of the hill, turning quietly at the top, and then doing is all again in reverse. On-lookers are amazed by this spectacle, and it is clear that the entertainer in John loves it. In fact he loves it so much, he does it all over AGAIN!

Back to the sanctuary and safety of the canal bank, we again pick up a good walking speed as we make our way back to our starting point. After 22 kms at a very decent pace, the walking team members are feeling it - apart from a few blisters on his hands, Handsome Harris looks more like a man who has just turned up to pick us up, not one who has done the training push with us.

As endearing as Handsome Harris is, I'm beginning to think Popeye might be a more appropriate nickname!

If you would like to discuss a sponsorship opportunity for John's Kilimanjaro Challenge please email Simon at simondeacy@pjs-speakers.co.uk or telephone 01600 729180.

You can also make a donation to John's Kilimanjaro Challenge through the Just Giving page at: https://www.justgiving.com/fullcircleltd/

If you are interested in hearing directly from John at an event you are holding, please contact simondeacy@pjs-speakers.co.uk

Saturday, 18 May 2013

Recognition of John's Work

Slightly off the point of John's charity climb of Mount Kilimanjaro, but we wanted to share some great news with all of John's supporters.

Last night, at a formal dinner, John was inducted into the Welsh Sports Hall of Fame, taking his place alongside Welsh sporting greats, such as Gareth Edwards, John Charles, Colin Jackson and Dame Tanni Grey-Thompson.

A closely guarded secret until the night of his induction, John is delighted to be recognised for his sporting achievements and for his support of Disabled Sport, ever since. Approaching the 50th anniversary of his accident when he broke his back, it is also 25 years since John did two marathon pushes around Wales with his great friend Chris Hallam, raising money to improve the facilities available to disabled sports men and women.
The Welsh Sports Hall of Fame (WSHF) originated in a collection of souvenirs acquired by the late G V Wynne-Jones, the radio commentator. It was formed in 1980 to provide a Welsh national focus for recognising and preserving sporting achievements  by Welsh sportsmen and sportswomen at the highest level, with the intention of influencing future generations in the values of sporting endeavour.

Each year at the annual dinner new names are revealed of those many Welsh sports persons considered by their achievements and personal attributes to be worthy additions to the Roll of Honour. For John, that moment came last night.

"It is a considerable honour to be recognised in this way," John said. "To be part of a roll of honour that contains the names of many of the sports stars I regard as my hero, is an incredible accolade."

In his typical no-nonsense style, John's thoughts are already back on his training for Kilimanjaro, but he hopes his induction into the Welsh Sports Hall of Fame will attract further donations, sponsorship and support for this his "big" challenge - A Wheelchair Ascent of Mount Kilimanjaro.

You can find out more about the Welsh Sports Hall of Fame on their website, which can be found at http://welshsportshalloffame.co.uk

If you would like to discuss a sponsorship opportunity for John's Training or actual climb of Kilimanjaro please email Simon at simondeacy@pjs-speakers.co.uk or telephone 01600 729180.

You can also make a donation to John's Kilimanjaro Challenge through the Just Giving page at: https://www.justgiving.com/fullcircleltd/

Thursday, 16 May 2013

John Harris - About Kilimanjaro

One of the reasons for this blog, was to fulfill a number of requests John has had to tell school and college students (as well as friends, families and fellow Paralympic athletes) all about his charity climb of Mount Kilimanjaro. Having given a little information on the initial training, we thought it was about time to say a little about the challenge.

Mount Kilimanjaro is in Tanzania, a country in East Africa. The country is bordered by Kenya and Uganda to the north and Rwanda, Burundi, and the Democratic Republic of the Congo to the west. On its southern border are Zambia, Malawi and Mozambique. The country’s eastern border is formed by the Indian Ocean.

The population of Tanzania is 46 million with over half of the population being under 15 years of age. Whilst Swahili is the official language, Great Britain’s long-term involvement in Tanzania means that English is also widely spoken.

Kilimanjaro is the world's highest free-standing, equatorial mountain. At 19,336 feet, snow-capped Mount Kilimanjaro is Africa's highest peak. Pictures of Kilimanjaro’s towering snow-covered cone, rising majestically from fertile green foothills, is a most amazing sight. When climbing Kilimanjaro, John and his team will ascend through five different ecological zones to reach the summit.

Kilimanjaro is a giant stratovolcano, which is not currently active, but has fumaroles that emit gas in the crater on the main summit. A stratovolcano is a tall, conical volcano composed of one layer of hardened lava, tephra, and volcanic ash. In 2003 scientists concluded that molten magma is a mere 400 meters below the summit crater. Although new activity is not expected (thankfully), there are fears the volcano may collapse, causing a major eruption similar to Mount St. Helens. Stratovolcanoes are characterised by a steep profile and periodic, explosive eruptions. The lava that flows from them is highly viscous, and cools and hardens before spreading very far.

To get an idea of the height of Kilimanjaro (19,336 feet), it might be worth comparing with Abergavenny’s Sugar Loaf (1,955 ft), Snowdonia (3,560 ft), Ben Nevis (4,409 ft – highest point in the UK), Mont Blanc (4810 ft – highest point in the Alps & Europe), but is still dwarfed by Mount Everest at 29,029 feet.

There are several different routes available to climb Kilimanjaro. In planning an ascent with John, our climbing guide has had to give a lot of consideration about the best route for his wheelchair. With that the main consideration, we have decided to use the Marangu Route for our climb. Regarded as the most popular route until recently, it also has the highest failure rate, primarily due to climbers spending less time acclimatising.

On the way up, John and the team will go through several ecosystems, including rain forests, moorland and alpine meadows, rocky ravines that will provide a significant challenge for the wheelchair, and lunar landscapes. Much of our equipment will be ported by local guides who form our support team, along with a cook who prepares the meals.  

We hope to take many photographs to capture the wonder of this remarkable place, and John’s incredible climb. In the rain forests we hope to capture some of the monkeys, and Kilimanjaro is home to plants that are unique to this mountain.

If you would like to discuss a sponsorship opportunity for John's Training or actual climb of Kilimanjaro please email Simon at simondeacy@pjs-speakers.co.uk or telephone 01600 729180.

You can also make a donation to John's Kilimanjaro Challenge through the Just Giving page at:

Saturday, 11 May 2013

Fun & Frolics Fundraising For Kilimanjaro

Apart from the usual weekly weights sessions, it's been a relaxed week on the training front for Kilimanjaro, but it's been far from quiet!

The South Wales Argus has been a great supporter of John for many years and when Hayley Mills heard of John's plans to tackle Mount Kilimanjaro, she was keen to tell his story. On Thursday, 'Handsome' Harris graced page 15 of the newspaper, and the fundraising side of the challenge was given a boost by Hayley's story. You can read the story on-line at ow.ly/kSq9l

On Thursday evening John was invited to attend a Duke of Edinburgh Awards evening at West Mon School, where John has enjoyed a long and fruitful relationship. At the event, John met someone he considers to be one of the blokes around, Ian Gough, the Welsh and Ospreys lock forward. Ian had already offered his support for the Kilimanjaro Challenge via social media, but John greatly appreciated the chance to speak to Ian in person.

Friday had been planned by Dreams and Wishes as a fundraising day, bag packing at Marks and Spencer. A long and arduous day, but vital to the fundraising cause, John was ever present throughout the day, a glowing smile and appreciative quip waiting for everyone who made a donation.

Donned in his Dreams and Wishes Tee shirt, John looked lean and mean, until he broke into his Hollywood smile that is. He was joined during the day by a second Dreams and Wishes Kilimanjaro Team, including Cardiff City Captain Mark Hudson and physio Adam Rattenbury. The Fullcircle Foundation Team turned out in force to support the cause, but typically, it was John who managed to stay the duration!

John, the Fullcircle Foundation, and Dreams and Wishes, are very grateful for all donations, to everyone who helped out on the day, and of course to Marks and Spencer's for their support in entertaining the fundraising event.

Throughout the week John received great support on his Facebook page https://www.facebook.com/paralympianjohn and on his twitter account which can be found @johnharrisgold

Special thanks for twitter support go to @peternorfolk @paralympic @IPCAthletics @2013MountKili

If you would like to discuss a sponsorship opportunity for John's Training or actual climb of Kilimanjaro please email Simon at simondeacy@pjs-speakers.co.uk or telephone 01600 729180.

You can also make a donation to John's Kilimanjaro Challenge through the Just Giving page at:

Sunday, 5 May 2013

Kilimanjaro Training on the Taff Trail

Having done a few off-road hill climbs in recent weeks, yesterday's training venue was the Taff Trail. John just wanted to get a bit of distance into his arms, and the Taff Trail looked ideal.

Starting at Sophia Gardens in Cardiff, the Taff Trail follows the River Taff northwards. A beautiful picturesque walk, it was great to see so many people out on their bikes, joggers and fellow walkers, enjoying the lovely Welsh scenery. We set out at 11.45 on the West bank with John again using his old light weight titanium framed wheelchair. With the beating it's been having in recent weeks, it's starting to creek and groan a little!

"I've put some more air in the tyres and it feels so much better,"John cheerily declares as we set out. Within minutes we come across an unexpected sight, groups of men playing Australian Rules Football, but there's no time to stop, this is a non-stop trek! We cross the river after 15 minutes and set out into a more densely wooded area. John's in high spirits and he smiles at everyone, passing the time the day with anyone who cares to make eye contact.

On each little rise, when the effort required is greater, John does his steam train impression, and free wheeling down the other side he is like a teenager, swerving side to side and challenging cyclists to see who can get through small gateways first. John always wins!!

Meandering gently upwards, we come to a weir, the site of a rowing club. We stop briefly to enjoy the view and using his well practiced dog whistle, John convinces a pink collared lady Alsatian to have her photograph taken with him. She certainly wasn't camera shy! The path itself is still in excellent condition, and John's wheelchair is running easily, reducing any risk of his usual weekend dumping on the floor.

We start to hear the sound of leather and willow, and on the opposite bank a cricket match is taking place on a picturesque ground on the banks of the river. We joke about the likelihood of a big hit sweeping the ball all the way to the river. Within striking distance we then pass another cricket match with youngsters involved, accompanied by the sound of ladies screeching in delight. Ah, a ladies rugby match is taking place on the adjacent pitch, with all of the accompanying sound effects.

Getting to the outskirts of the built up parts of Cardiff, we come to an unmarked cross roads. The path close to the river goes underneath a road bridge, but this is far from accessible to normal wheelchairs with a tough uphill rugged stretch blocking our path. We ask a couple out walking their dog about the trail and whilst the route under the bridge is the trail path, we are directed on a more circuitous, road-based route. That would be too easy of course, so for the first time on this walk, we work with John to get his through some difficult terrain.

Pushing on northwards towards Castle Coch, and the trail starts to change, and 'the push' a little more demanding. One hour 45minutes in, we see a sign for a cafe in a fruit picking farm. We cross the river, but sadly, the cafe is closed. We re-cross and plough on, the trail now no longer a man-made path and presenting more of a challenge.

With every intention of getting to Castle Coch, we start to come across access gates to different sections of the trail. Managing to squeeze through a gap by the side of one that was too small to allow a wheelchair access, we come to a second that we can just about manoeuvre John's chair into, to get through. 100 metres later we are blocked by a much smaller access gate, and public access, no-longer means access to even the most intrepid of wheelchair user.

6 miles out from our starting point, we are forced to turn around, a mile short of our intended destination at Castle Coch. The route back is gently downhill, and we cover it at a decent pace, although John could have done it far quicker. The trail is much busier as we get in closer to the City Centre, and sport is still being played on green patches of land, almost everywhere, once we are south of the M4.

2 hours later we finally stop at the Secret Garden cafe, half a mile from our final destination. Deciding not to pack food and beverage for this trek, John is grateful for some food and his favourite drink, a nice cup of coffee. Having covered eleven miles in just under four hours, John is in great shape, but my knees and ankles are aching, and the one thing I've learned from this trek, is that I need new walking boots.

Refreshed, we cover the last half a mile, with John swaying playfully back and fore in his wheelchair, whilst I do my best impression of the tin man from the Wizard of Oz, my ankles, knee and hip joints, all refusing to work as per manufacturer instructions. As a training walk it has been very worthwhile, and we have all learned a little bit more about ourselves, our trek team members, and what we need to do to get ourselves completely ready for what will be a much more difficult challenge. The importance of well fitted kit, being key!

Safely home, John's shoulders and arms are stiffening up. He takes a quick bath and then relaxes on the settee to enjoy some sport on the TV. He wakes several hours later wondering what hit him. By Sunday morning, after a rare good night's sleep, his soreness has completely gone, and he is raring to go again. Thankfully he had told his old mate and London Marathon great, Chris Hallam, that he was going to pay him a visit today.

We are spared, and unlike the incredible recovery of the 67 year old 'bionic man', out soreness can have another day to recover!

"I really enjoyed that push," says John. "Four hours non-stop was just what I needed, and it was a lovely route. It was great to see people out on their bikes and jogging, and I'm just surprised we did not see more families out enjoying it. What a fantastic activity for kids, it's free, and there's also an opportunity to learn about the history of the old River based industry and nature."

If you would like to discuss a sponsorship opportunity for John's Kilimanjaro Challenge please email Simon at simondeacy@pjs-speakers.co.uk or telephone 01600 729180.

You can also make a donation to John's Kilimanjaro Challenge through the Just Giving page at: https://www.justgiving.com/fullcircleltd/

Saturday, 4 May 2013

Putting Some Miles on the Clock

Well the vaccination day wasn't overly enjoyable and John's diary is now a patchwork quilt of times and dates to get all the treatments he needs.

So, what else has the great man been up too this week. In support of Dave Roberts CBE, one of the most successful Paralympians in history, John attended a charity event for the Noah's Ark Appeal on Wednesday evening, to take part in a Question & Answers session. He had a great evening, the event was a great success, and people were stunned to hear that John was going to tackle Kilimanjaro!

John hit a local weights gym on Thursday afternoon to do an impressive workout. This isn't a one off, John's weekly routine is to do a weights session every Tuesday and Thursday afternoon, something he has done for most of his adult life. Unlike some of the aesthetically pleasing commercial fitness centres that have sprung up, the gym John goes to is for hardened weight trainers. It's rugged, no-nonsense character suits John's personality perfectly.

John's dedication to this training is admirable and in the Winter months when he couldn't get there, you could see John suffering withdrawal symptoms (Bear with a sore head comes to mind!). These training sessions are a critical part of his life, and in terms of Kilimanjaro, his dedication over many years will be the main reason why this challenge is achievable.

We're hitting the road shortly to get to the start of the Taff's Trail, a beautiful walk along the River Taff. We have chosen this walk today to avoid too many hills and simply to get some decent miles on the clock.

John has received some requests from friends and acquaintances asking if they and their children can join John on a training walk, to see John in action and chat about his Kilimanjaro Challenge. John loves nothing more than inspiring young people (and talking!!), so for future walks, we'll do what we can to advertise what we are doing, and anybody is welcome to come down and join us (in return for a small donation to the Challenge!).

If we have enough interest, we will give people the chance to buy a, 'I supported John Harris' Kilimanjaro Challenge' T shirt.

Wednesday, 1 May 2013

Inoculations Day

It is a day like today when John is wondering if doing a local fun run to raise money might not have been a better decision. Today, he is off to his doctors to get his inoculations for the Kilimanjaro Challenge.

This is when it all gets a little serious and when some of the risks involved get a lot more real. For John, infections are bad news, and serious infections, could be very detrimental.

So what is on the inoculations agenda and what is John going to be vaccinated against. The list reads like a medical journal of the most serious life threatening diseases in the world.

Yellow Fever - a viral disease that is transmitted to humans through the bite of infected mosquitoes.

Typhoid - a disease contracted through contaminated water or food, or by eating food or drinking beverages that have been handles by a person who is infected.

Hepatitis A - a debilitating disease of the liver which is spread through direct person-to-person contact or through exposure to contaminated water, or even by using cutlery that has been washed in this water.

Meningococcal Meningitis - A disease of the brain which is often fatal!

On top of these, he will also learn today whether he also needs to be vaccinated against Rabies, Polio, Tetanus, and take a course of Malaria tablets. Making the decision to go to Tanzania and to climb Kilimanjaro, was not taken lightly.

If you would like to discuss a sponsorship opportunity for John's Kilimanjaro Challenge, please email John at johnharris@pjs-speakers.co.uk or telephone 01600 729180

You can also make a donation to John's Kilimanjaro Challenge through the Just Giving page at: