After years of fighting cancer it was time to close some chapters of my life. Not the good ones but the ones where I could not find my spirit and energy. In 1995, 1998 and 2001, I had to face cancer and won the fight but with it, I paid the ultimate price. They needed to amputate my right leg in three places. Despite what has happened in the past, I am now 35 years old, married, have a beautiful little girl and working on my own sports company. This story is about my latest challenge, climbing Ben Nevis, the UK’s highest mountain on one leg.
In 2015, I came up with the idea to climb a mountain to close some chapters for good. But I did not want to climb for hours just for fun; I wanted to raise awareness at the same time. There are a lot of people with a handicap who do NOT have the flame to try something out of their comfort zone and I want to inspire them. I also wanted to challenge the general perception of handicapped people, I want to change their mind-set to see that we do are capable of things that are deemed impossible.
So I got in contact with CrossXvest, a company owned by Dave de Vries, who make the best training/weight vests around. Having already done a few expeditions on Ben Nevis, I wanted to pick his brain about whether this challenge was possible. He informed me that Ben Nevis is the highest mountain in the UK and a normal hiker can walk it in 10/12 hours. We chatted about various scenarios and how we could tackle but it wasn’t long until we agreed to do the challenge and from that moment on, it was time to prepare. I made a deal with the Verbeeten Challenge, an organisation who raises money and awareness for cancer research and also the Dutch rehabilitation fund who raise independency awareness for people with a handicap. Two great organisations on board, the focus now shifted to my training.
In the upcoming months, I amassed a team of professionals. A photographer, two instructors, a physiotherapist, my father, a good friend, EtchRock, Cloud Visuals and a Dutch broadcast station. The latter three organisations came with us to shoot some epic drone shots and provide any additional support that they could. At the same time I found 8 sponsors who helped me to get to Scotland and to make the trip possible. I also found a Gear sponsor in Tricorp and from that moment, it was game on.
In the mean time I needed to train and therefore got to take part in some cool projects. I trained hard every day, literally every day! I even planned a World Record attempt for the fastest man on crutches over a 5k distance. Necessary? No, but I got the opportunity to do it and to gain a lot of awareness so I did. I crushed the world record with 4 minutes to spare and made it on national television and radio! The word was slowly starting to spread about my challenge and what I was up to. After an extremely long and arduous training period, I was ready to go to Scotland. The aim time for the climb was 17 hours (weather permitting) so a lot of walking & climbing was in store!
In the last weeks before the trip I met Rich Mountain, a local Ben Nevis instructor who joined the team when we arrived. It was a great trip and the had an awesome hotel in the beautiful town Fort William. The Cloud Visual and EtchRock team had already arrived the day before and got the chance to meet them for the first time. When all of us sat down together it was hard not to get emotional about what was about to happen, I was confident that with the support of my fantastic team, nothing could stop us.
The day of the climb, I was nervous, very nervous. We started early in the morning to give us maximum amount of daylight, so when we were getting prepared, it was still dark. It was really cold and I did not eat a lot because of the nerves. The first hour, everything went ok.. but after a couple of hours I needed to rest more and more. As tough as it was, I had to keep saying to myself don’t stop but I was still loving every minute. After 4 hours we were close to the summit but because of health problems, my father needed to return back home. It was certainly a bitter pill to swallow and I couldn’t help but get a little emotional. As fantastic as my team were, he was my rock for inspiration and motivation. I thought from the start he was going to be there with me at the summit. But no, he needed to return because the climb was tough on him too. After a couple words of wisdom, he had me feeling energised and I was ready to carry on without him.
The weather went crazy the last couple hours. It started with wind, then rain and then storm, and rain again. It was relentless. After hours of struggle, I finally reached the summit, I had done it! Unfortunately, I was only able to enjoy it for just 10 minutes. For a person with my handicap, the descent was the most dangerous part of the climb. With not much time to spare, I had a special stone from one of my team members with a date on it. I placed the stone on the summit to leave my mark and as a reminder for what I had accomplished. When my daughter gets older, she will return to the summit and collect my stone. I want to show here what I did and why I climbed the Ben in a total of 6 hours up and 3 hours down. Every step I needed to take felt like a massive lunge and triceps press. Every muscle in my body did his job but it was the most intense walk I ever did. Looking back, the World Record attempt was easy compared to ‘The Ben’.
I am proud of what I have achieved, not only for myself but also the fact that we raised a lot of awareness for some fantastic organisations. I am already working on new goals and plans for 2017. I will be competing at the Dutch ninja warrior show and planning to compete at the 2018 Great Wall of China marathon, you will be hearing from me very soon!