Rising to the challenge

22 December, 2011 / Infocus

Alasdair Reid had just one thought in his mind as his legs started to grow heavier and heavier on the final push to the summit of the mountain – his 24-year-old daughter Morvern.

As he ploughed onward and upward, the Bearsden GDP took inspiration from his eldest daughter, who was diagnosed with ovarian cancer in March, and for whose chosen charity he was scaling the heights in aid of.

At the end of September, Alasdair, his friend and fellow dentist Stuart Craig from Auchinleck, and godson Graeme Reid from Johannesburg, took on the challenge of climbing 19,000 feet to the summit of Mount Kilimanjaro in Tanzania to help raise money for the Beatson Pebble Appeal.

The appeal is a £10 million campaign to raise funds to build the Beatson Translational Research Centre, the final element in the creation of the Glasgow Centre for Cancer Research. After receiving chemotherapy at the Beatson West of Scotland Cancer Centre earlier this year, Morvern decided to try to raise as much money as she could for the appeal in recognition of the outstanding care she received from the dedicated staff there. So far, Morvern and her determined band of fundraising friends and family have managed to raise just short of £25,000 and donations are still being gratefully accepted at Justgiving.com/morvern4thebeatson

She started off with a car boot sale in July that raised £156 and then 20 of her friends agreed to run the Paisley 10k in August, with all sponsorship going to her online Just Giving page. In early September, Morvern’s younger sister Susie and her sixth year classmates at Glennifer High School in Paisley held a bake sale and managed to raise an amazing £510. Morvern’s mum Pamela, along with a group of friends, then took part in a sponsored walk of the 90 miles of the Great Glen Way from Inverness to Fort William, which they completed in mid-October.

On top of all these planned events, there were also a number of spontaneous moments of generosity that surprised Morvern and her family. One of her mum’s work colleagues turned her 60th birthday party into a fundraising event by asking for donations to the appeal instead of presents. She turned up at the Reid’s door with £850 in a poly bag.

Then, one of Alasdair’s friends, Kenny Fairlie, managed to raise £1,000 in sponsorship by completing the Glasgow 10k, immediately followed by the half marathon. He simply crossed the finish line after the 10k, trotted over the road and started on the marathon course, without breaking stride.

With all these events being planned or under way, Alasdair knew he would need to do something special to get people, especially his patients in the practice, to dig deep and donate money to the cause. And so the idea of walking up Mount Kilimanjaro, the highest point in Africa, came into being.

Alasdair convinced fellow dentist and friend of the family Stuart to join him and, with neither men having much experience of hill climbing, let alone mountain climbing, they decided to get a bit of training in. In the weeks and months leading up to the September trip out to East Africa, Alasdair and Stuart started a campaign of hill walking in an attempt to get in shape for the challenge that lay ahead.

However, despite their preparation, the actual climb itself tested both men to the limit. Alasdair explained: “It was a great experience. But that final day climb was the hardest thing I have ever done in my life. I had maybe underestimated it. We had done loads of preparation, we had climbed a Scottish hill every weekend for about three months before we went, so we were both fit enough.

“It was just the height. The base camp was at 15,000 feet and it was that climb from 15,000 up to 19,000 through the night that was really tough.”

The final day trek, which started at 11pm and saw the men reach the summit at just after dawn, was the culmination of a six-day expedition up the mountain and was followed by a two-day descent. Alasdair explained that the five days prior to reaching the summit were not particularly difficult, with the only surprise being the weather. He said: “It rained every single day. It was either rain or snow. On the third day it was like walking through Glencoe in December. There was two or three inches of snow lying on the ground, just like home!

“But none of the climbs in the first five days were that difficult. Just long, slow, steady climbs.”

However, on the sixth day Alasdair, Stuart and Graeme along with the rest of their group were woken at 11pm, fed and set on their way to the peak, with the aim to get to the top and then start back down again in one day.

But, as they got closer and closer to the top, each climber to a man started to struggle with the lack of oxygen – or more precisely the lack of oxygen pressure. Alasdair said: “The hardest thing is just not having the puff. As we got near the top I found I was just trying my hardest to get one foot to go in front of the other. It was like an old man shuffling along. You look around and everyone is the same. Everyone is in their own wee world and that last hour just stretches on and on forever.”

And Alasdair revealed that his daughter was always high in his thoughts as he got closer to the top. He said: “That last day’s walk I was just thinking about Morvern and the reasons we were doing this. Stuart said the same thing, there was a reason we were there and we just had to get to the top. But that was what kept us going.

“Your legs are saying you don’t have to do this, just turn around and go home. But we did have to do it. For Morvern.”

As they went on, the sounds of other groups reaching the top started to filter down. “Up ahead you can hear folk cheering when they get to the top,” explained Alasdair. “So you start to hear that as you get closer. But you just say to yourself: ‘Just keep going, don’t look up, don’t look up’.

“And then, at about 6am the sun came up over the horizon just as we were approaching the summit and it was fabulous. There is another volcano that sits adjacent to Kilimanjaro and the sun just came up over the peak of that and it was just spectacular, absolutely fantastic.”

Just before they reached the summit, Alasdair decided to leave a keepsake on the mountainside, in the form of an impromptu time capsule: “We put a rock to one side and put a picture of Morvern with a wee message on the back, a bit of Scottish quartz as well as a few other bits and pieces and rolled the rock back over.”

Just like her father and his walking buddies as they neared the summit, the family are hoping there is light at the end of the tunnel for Morvern and her treatment.

She finished her last round of chemotherapy the week before Alasdair left for Africa and the latest round of scans have been largely positive, although the family are determined to stay realistic and not get their hopes up.

Alasdair explained: “She recently went in for an MRI scan and we will wait two weeks for the results. If that comes back okay, then that’s the end of her treatment and she will be reviewed three-monthly and scanned six-monthly for the next three years.”

To donate, please visit http://www.justgiving.com/morvern4thebeatson

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