With an exciting year ahead, Ed Jackson gives us an update on the incredible challenges he’s set himself, both personally and as part of his mission to help others find hope and recovery in the great outdoors.
Hi, my names Ed, I’m 32 years old and I’m from Bath. After reading that opening sentence back, I also need to clarify that I have never been on Take Me Out.
After leaving school I was lucky enough to have a ten-year career as a professional rugby player. Unfortunately, in 2017 my career was cut short when I suffered a serious spinal cord injury diving into a swimming pool. The accident left me paralysed from the shoulders down and facing life in a wheelchair.
Thanks to a lot of hard work, some amazing support, and a fair amount of luck I am back on my feet and, although still very much disabled, have managed to regain independence and carve out a new, fulfilling life. I now spend my time taking on physical challenges to raise awareness for disability, broadcasting with Channel 4, delivering motivational talks and running our charity ‘Millimetres 2 Mountains’.
I’m not going to lie, staying positive hasn’t always been easy, particularly early on when the prognosis was very bleak. One of the key turning points came in intensive care. I had seen no movement or sensation return in over a week when the surgeon came in to deliver the news that I could expect to spend the rest of my life in a wheelchair but hopefully I would get the use of my arms back so that I could care for myself. It was that moment I realised that it wasn’t just me this injury would affect for the rest of my life but anyone who had to care for me as well. I knew then that I had to do everything I could to get better, not just for me but for them. Two days later my toe moved.
I spent the next four months in hospital fighting to regain as much as I could. It was a rollercoaster of emotions, improvements and set backs but I eventually rolled out of Salisbury spinal unit in my wheelchair with a fighting chance of rebuilding some sort of meaningful life. Back then I never considered how far I would get, in fact I still don’t, it’s very much been one day at a time. I’ve learnt to focus on the present and appreciate everything that comes my way. It’s been a blessing in many regards.
As lucky as I am to be independent, I am still very much disabled. My official title is an incomplete quadriplegic with Brown Syquard syndrome but that’s a bit weighty for the twitter bio so ‘walking quad’ gets banded about instead. I have restricted motor function down the left side of my body, including foot drop and limited hand movement. This means that to get around I have to wear an AFO (artificial foot orthosis) on my left leg, use walking poles to stay upright and need help with buttons.
But it’s not just movement that has been affected, in fact in many ways that’s the least of my worries. As always with spinal cord injuries it’s the underlying issues that have the most impact on my day to day life. These include:
- Temperature regulation issues.
- Inability to sweat below the chest.
- High muscle tone (not in the good way).
- Overactive bladder.
- Underactive bowel.
- Sexual function issues.
- Sleep issues.
- Blood pressure regulation problems.
It looks a lot, and it is, these things are certainly not easy to manage (especially up a mountain). However given what this list could and should contain I actually read it back with a smile on my face. It’s all about perspective I suppose.
When put into context, climbing Snowdon less than a year after I was told I wouldn’t walk again is probably my biggest achievement to date – it’s a long way from the pantheon of iconic summit attempts, but given the journey we had been on that year it felt like standing on top of Everest. It was shortly after that, while dragging myself up Mt Buet, that I realised just how much all of this was helping me overcome my situation, somewhat physically but more importantly mentally. The mountains have hugely benefited both my physical and mental health to the point where I genuinely don’t know what I’d do without them….They’ve given me somewhere to challenge myself and redefine my limitations but also the space to think and unwind when things get too much.
“I genuinely don’t know what I’d do without the mountains…”
That got me thinking – if it was working it for me there was no reason it wouldn’t work for others too. So I set up a charity, Millimetres 2 Mountains, to give people that are facing a tough period in their lives the opportunity to do something extraordinary in nature and feel the healing powers themselves. I’m also very aware that creating sustainable change is a process, so we don’t just say good bye to our beneficiaries after the trips. The challenge merely acts as the catalyst after which we implement a 1-3 year development programme tailored to the individual’s needs in order to cement a positive change.
It’s an exciting year ahead for both myself and the charity starting with ‘Walk The Coast’ on the 24th May, where we are taking two weeks to walk all 130 miles of the stunning North Cornwall coast line whilst raising awareness for the benefits of the outdoors on mental health. We’re welcoming anyone who wants to join us for any length of time so we can all just celebrate being together outdoors for a good cause again.
After that and Covid permitting we are due to head to the Alps in June on our first proper adventure ‘The Alpine Challenge’ where with 3 beneficiaries and a group of supporters we will be spending some much-needed time in the mountains and challenging ourselves to climb two peaks in the Monte Rosa Massif. Then in August we’re off to Iceland with more fundraisers and beneficiaries for the ‘Viking Challenge’. An 8-day adventure into the Icelandic wilderness culminating in an attempt to climb it’s highest peak…which also happens to be an active volcano…
In September I have a huge and very exciting personal challenge as I attempt to become the first quadriplegic to summit Mont Blanc. For years now since my accident I have been heading to the alps to take on challenges on much smaller peaks and for years Mont Blanc has been looking down inviting me to give it a go. For a long time I didn’t think it would be possible, but this year with the help of adapted kit from Berghaus and the guidance of one of the best climbers in the world, Leo Houlding, I’m going to give it my best shot and try and redefine what’s possible after a serous spinal cord injury.
The climbing year culminates with another charity trip, this time to Nepal and an attempt to climb Mt Himlung Himal. As well as a massive personal challenge, I have been supporting a spinal unit in Kathmandu for a couple of years now and I have some exciting news to deliver them, watch this space!
On top of this I also have just released a podcast ‘It’s Good To Walk’, have a book out in August ‘Lucky’ and am off to Tokyo with Channel 4 for the Paralympics. So it’s fair to say a bit more planned than last year!
Getting to know Ed….Quick fire round:
- Night in or night out? Out, had enough nights in recently!
- Desert island or busy city? City, I cant sit still on a beach…
- Cat person or dog person? I have dogs but don’t mind cats..
- Builders tea or skinny soy latte? Black coffee
- Who/what is your screensaver? Mera peak in Nepal
- Most listened to song? Walking on broken glass – Annie Lennox, don’t ask!
- Something about you that surprises people? I don’t sweat from below the nipples and I love country music. Combined I would say that makes for a reasonably surprising/weird sentence.
- Best advice you’ve been given? Understand what is within your control and what is outside of your control then forget about the latter.
- My wife would describe me as… hopefully wonderful but probably weird…
Ed’s kit picks:
This hoody goes everywhere with me. It’s light, versatile and folds down to almost nothing, so it’s a useful and easy companion. The front pouch is also a winner, admittedly mine is usually full of sweets…
Tangra Insulated Jacket
Every time I put this jacket on it feels like a hug from an old friend. It’s surprisingly warm considering how light it is and keeps the wind out with ease. Cosy and good looking…the perfect partner.
24/7 Tech Tee baselayer
I’ve worn a lot of tech tees in my time as a rugby player and none were as good as this. Light, affordable, dries quickly and can go a few days in a row before people start keeping their distance!
Find out more about Ed and the work of M2M by heading over to his Insta: @edjackson8 or visiting Millimetres2mountains.org