Unlike many weird and wonderful ideas born amongst friends in the pub, Douglas and Patrick actually made theirs a reality. They ordered their own wheelchairs. They booked flights to Rwanda and set about on a gruelling training schedule, all whilst getting on with their day jobs.
Their new routines included sessions with personal trainers, one-on-one sessions with swimming coaches, and cold, dark, rainy evenings doing laps of a south London race track in their wheelchairs. Wednesday training sessions became "Wheelchair Wednesdays".
They struggled with ongoing injuries, resulting in missing valuable training - Patrick was left for a period of time on crutches, unable to do basic daily tasks, let alone train for a gruelling triathlon. Not only did they need to develop incredible levels of fitness, the two amateur athletes had to learn how to swim without using their legs, run long distances blindfolded (which resulted in a few crashes into trees and cyclists during training!), and to be able to cover miles and miles in their new wheelchairs.
“The training’s been a huge learning curve… we had no idea.” Doug.
Preparing for the unknown
Not only were they raising money for a fantastic cause, but also putting themselves in the shoes of people with disabilities. “We thought it would bring us a lot closer to the charities and causes we were fundraising for.”
Whilst the challenge involved an incredible amount of physical preparation, it also required a huge amount of logistical planning. How do you find somewhere flat enough to do a wheelchair marathon in a country dubbed ‘the land of a thousand hills’? Will all the equipment make it out to Rwanda in one piece? Is this all possible?
Soon it was September, and the time had come for Doug and Patrick to complete the gruelling three day "Tri Untested" challenge. The first day was the 2km no-leg swim in Lake Kivu in the west of Rwanda, which they completed in an impressive 44 minutes. Word had spread that they were professional swimmers, and Doug and Patrick were surprised to be joined by the Rwandan triathlon team in the middle of their swim!
The next day was the blindfold marathon. They took it in turns to wear the blindfold, while the other runner acted as the guide. This would prove to be a huge psychological challenge. As Doug said before the event, “It takes a huge amount of concentration to run for that length of time without being able to see. It’s mentally very, very tiring.”
After they successfully completed the second of the three challenges, they encountered a problem. Due to the extreme temperatures, Patrick was suffering from heat exhaustion and dehydration, which could be very dangerous. They decided to postpone the final leg of the challenge for one day so that Patrick could have a medical check-up. This could have easily put off an average person, but not the incredibly determined Tri Untested team! After a day of rest, they were ready to face the final challenge they had travelled so far to complete.
Learning together in Rwanda
Irene, who has Down's Syndrome, attends the HRD La Miséricorde Centre, in Rwanda’s Muhanga district. The centre aims to ensure that children with disabilities are included in community life and brings together children at the centre with children at mainstream schools.
Handicap International’s Inclusive Education project in Rwanda aims to ensure that all children are able to attend mainstream schools and make the most of their time in the classroom. By working with communities, we identify disabled children that have not been attending school and set up support groups for parents.
The wheelchair marathon
The final challenge would prove to be the most difficult yet. They had found as flat a route as possible for their wheelchair marathon, but in Rwanda, nowhere is without a few hills. As they explained, this would be “the most daunting of all the events, this is not only physically demanding on the upper body, the long hours in the chair cause extreme pain in the back and hamstrings”. Add to that the extreme heat and incline, and this would be a real endurance test.
Doug and Patrick completed the marathon to the cheers and excitement of local school children, who ran to meet them like celebrities on the side of the road. In the words of Patrick, Tri Untested was now “tried and tested”: it was all over!
A challenge with a lasting legacy
Doug and Patrick’s hard work and determination are an inspiration, showing that when you put your mind to it, incredible things can be done to help those who are most in need. They raised a super-human £12,000 for Handicap International's work, a phenomenal sum which will transform the lives of many people living with disabilities in Africa.
A few months after returning to the UK Doug visited his old school to tell the story of TriUntested and inspire a new generation. His message, "if you have an idea, don’t be afraid to chase it, even if people tell you it can’t be done."
You can see a selection of photos from Doug and Patrick's challenge below.
© Douglas Flynn and Patrick Jenkinson
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