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East Anglia’s Kilimanjaro climbers showed unbeatable team spirit, says Everest adventurer Jo Bradshaw

PUBLISHED: 06:32 03 February 2017 | UPDATED: 06:32 03 February 2017

ZSEA charity climb of Kilimanjario, January 2017. Pictured is expedition leader Jo Bradshaw (third from right) with team members.

ZSEA charity climb of Kilimanjario, January 2017. Pictured is expedition leader Jo Bradshaw (third from right) with team members.

Archant

What characteristics do you need to succeed when the going gets tough? EDP agricultural editor CHRIS HILL, part of a group which conquered Africa’s highest mountain for charity, asked his team-mates – and the Everest adventurer who led them.

ZSEA charity climb of Kilimanjario, January 2017. Pictured is expedition leader Jo Bradshaw after guiding the team to Stellar Point on the crater rim. ZSEA charity climb of Kilimanjario, January 2017. Pictured is expedition leader Jo Bradshaw after guiding the team to Stellar Point on the crater rim.

On the face of it, this was a team without much in common.

Drawn from all walks of life across Norfolk and Suffolk, our group included a fireman, a former soldier, a zookeeper, a pole dancing instructor, a company director and a hairdresser.

Most didn’t know each other, and none had any experience of mountaineering – yet somehow we succeeded in scaling the 5,895m (19,341ft) peak of Mt Kilimanjaro, the highest mountain in Africa, despite some of the worst summit conditions our guides had seen there.

After an arduous five days of trekking, battling the effects of altitude sickness, our eight-hour summit climb in the early hours was shrouded in ice as freezing fog and powerful winds developed just as we were expecting the warmth of the Tanzanian dawn.

ZSEA charity climb of Kilimanjario, January 2017. ZSEA charity climb of Kilimanjario, January 2017.

So what kept us going when others may have turned back?

According to our leader, it was a combination of individual determination, the ability to take good advice, and a supportive team dynamic.

Like the team, expedition leader Jo Bradshaw has East Anglian roots, having grown up in Great Chishill in Cambridgeshire and attended school at Felixstowe College. She quit her job as a partnership manager for Business Link in 2008 to pursue a more adventurous life, reaching a pinnacle with the conquest of Everest last year.

During her 26 ascents of Kilimanjaro, the 45-year-old said she had never known such a combination of bad weather – nor such a tight-knit team.

ZSEA charity climb of Kilimanjario, January 2017. Pictured: The team celebrates their success with the 49-man crew. ZSEA charity climb of Kilimanjario, January 2017. Pictured: The team celebrates their success with the 49-man crew.

She said: “At about 5am I remember saying it was half an hour to sunrise, then I was looking around and there was no sunrise. It felt really weird. The the wind got much worse and the temperature dropped a huge amount and then the ice started forming on everybody. I’ve had really cold conditions up there, or really foggy or really windy, but I’ve never had all of it together on that particular mountain.

“I was thinking: ‘Now what do I do? How am I going to keep these poor guys going when the temperature is dropping when it should have gone up and they’re all getting covered in ice?’ But you guys were phenomenal. Everyone just kept going. So many other groups, or individuals within a group, would have turned back in those conditions, so hats off to your all.

“I think it’s the fact that you all seemed to care about each other, even though you were a group of individuals. That team spirit and that empathy with each other really made the difference. When someone in the group said something no-one tried to better it with a bigger story. There was no competition, which was great. I’ve seen it so many times that the competitive instinct comes out and it overrides what people should be doing, which is walking slowly, drinking lots of water and chilling in camp.”

Having fallen victim to altitude sickness herself on her second climb of Kilimanjaro, the experienced adventurer said it was vital to adapt to the slower pace of an oxygen-depleted environment – but anyone who pushed through their physical difficulties would be rewarded with benefits beyond the mountain, of inner confidence and personal growth.

“It’s so important,” she said, “We get people on the mountain from all walks of life from busy mums to company directors and people who own their own businesses.

“Because we are so in control of our lives and at home very rarely does someone get a bad headache that lasts three days or cannot walk because they are breathless. If someone told you to keep walking, you’d just got to bed.

“So to put yourself in an environment where humans are not supposed to live, your bodies are working so hard just to function normally, so you are pushing yourself to the limit – and a lot of people don’t deal with that. But by pushing through that pain barrier you can push your body through so much more than you think it is capable of, like I did on Everest.

“I always say that difficult is good. When things are difficult you gain so much more and you grow so much more as a person.

“I think its 80pc psychological and 20pc physical. You can always keep walking, but it is your brain which says stop or go.”

WHAT DROVE THE TEAM?

The 13-strong team joined together to raise money for the Zoological Society of East Anglia (ZSEA), the charitable trust which runs Banham Zoo and Africa Alive near Lowestoft. Nine reached the summit of Kilimanjaro.

Helped by the singing and support of their Tanzanian summit crew, the team’s motivations for digging deep included a refusal to let down their sponsors, friends and families.

There was also a determination to conquer the mountain on behalf of team-mates Julie Davies and Dave Farmer, DIY shop colleagues who were both forced to withdraw earlier in the week with medical problems, and the 66-year-old “Golden Girls” Vikki Middleton and Jo Bell, from North Elmham and Beetley near Dereham, who decided they had reached their personal summit at 5,200m.

• David Blood, a 35-year-old engineering manager from Little Plumstead, said: “The thing that really kept me going during the summit night was the rest of the team. Knowing that each and every single one of us wanted each other to make it to the summit really helped push me through.”

• Valerie Watson Brown, from Bridgham, near Thetford, is director of Norwich-based marketing agency The Lively Crew. She said: “Nothing prepares you for a brush with altitude sickness alongside temperamental weather conditions. Totally out of any comfort zone and out of control, sheer stubbornness in refusing to give up drove me onwards and upwards.”

• Hayley Talbot, 27, a florist and hairdresser from Yaxley, near Eye, said: “Without the rest of our team and all the summit crew I don’t think I would have made it to the top – their singing and encouragement kept me going. I wanted to keep going for the rest of the team as well.”

• Frankie Bleasdale, 28, an animal keeper at Africa Alive, near Lowestoft, said: “My motivation was also from all my friends and family that helped me so much to fund-raise for the charity, that were expecting me to get to the top. I didn’t want to let myself or them down.”

• Hannah Neale, from Bardwell in Suffolk, is a 29-year-old training advisor who is also a part-time pole-dancing and aerial fitness instructor. She reached the summit with her partner Michael Goodman, a 32-year-old Information security officer and former Royal Anglian Regiment soldier. She said: “What motivated me was sheer determination to get there and the singing from the guides – and my own humming.”

• Africa Alive shop supervisor Joel Bessey, 26, from Mutford, near Lowestoft, said: “The one thing that kept me going was my stubbornness, I will not be beaten by a little hill. My work colleagues, my family and my friends had all been so supportive so to fall at the last hurdle was unimaginable. And of course I couldn’t let our animals at Africa Alive down, as well as the conservation charities that all of the kind donations were going to.”

• The ZSEA team was completed by fireman Pete Sheedy, from Poringland, who was raising money for ZSEA and also for the Hethel Ward at the Norfolk and Norwich University Hospital, which cared for his late wife Keren during her illness.

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