Lowestoft father goes to great heights for charity trek in sister’s memory
A father-of-three has gone to extraordinary heights to raise money for a good cause - almost 5,000 feet above sea level in fact.
Leon Smith, 43 of Lowestoft, completed a gruelling trek of the Peruvian mountains in aid of the British Heart Foundation - a charity with particular significance to him.
More than 30 years ago, Mr Smith's sister Rachel died of a congenital heart disease. She was just 18-months-old at the time.
Since her death, Mr Smith and his family have devoted themselves to fundraising for the charity, but this was his biggest challenge yet.
Setting off from Colombia at the end of September, Mr Smith joined a team of 28 on an expedition across the Andes, finishing in the lost city of Machu Picchu.
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Mr Smith said: 'The biggest challenge was the altitude, by far. Living in Lowestoft, I am at sea level, so it was certainly a shock to the system.
'The only way I can describe altitude sickness is like the worst hangover of your life, multiplied by 10. You get a throbbing headache and feel confused because your brain is starved of oxygen.'
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Fortunately for Mr Smith and his team - which consisted of people from across the country - doctors were on the trek with oxygen supplies to ensure everybody conquered the gruelling challenge.
He added: 'The trek ended with us passing through a landmark called the Sun Gate, which looks over Machu Picchu, and the view was breath-taking.
'When we arrived there was not a dry eye in the team, it was such an emotional moment.'
Combined, the team raised more than £48,000 for the charity, with Mr Smith himself contributing more than £3,000.
As well as honouring his sister's memory, Mr Smith had an added motivation to raise money for the charity, after a close colleague died after a sudden heart attack.
Mr Smith added: 'I had always wanted to do something big, so when Martin died, that was the final push I need.
'This feels like a massive achievement. I'm so proud to have been able to raise so much for a cause that is very important to me. I know that with the money going to the British Heart Foundation, it will make a real difference to people's lives.'
Mr Smith's Just Giving page remains open for donations.