Adventurer and motivational speaker Darren Edwards reflects on attempting to become the first person with a disability to complete the gruelling World Marathon Challenge: seven marathons in seven days on seven continents…
This was the moment my life would change forever. I could sense it.
I was tumbling uncontrollably down a vertical rock face. High on a cliff face, my footing had been pulled unexpectedly from beneath me by a crumbling rock.
It was in those truly terrifying moments, as life hung in the balance, that I promised to never give up – no matter the outcome.
The day that changed my life
The 6th of August 2016 was a day that changed so much about my life.
Having survived the fall, and after a lengthy evacuation by Mountain Rescue, I would come to learn that on landing I had broken my back, instantly and permanently paralysing myself from the chest down.
The dreams I’d had to climb the world’s tallest mountains, and ultimately my direction of travel in life, had come to a major crossroads.
But despite the physical and emotional trauma of that time, what could never be extinguished was a passion for adventure.
In the years that have followed that fateful, yet so incredibly fortunate day, I have been on a journey to rediscover both meaning and purpose.
Almost from the very outset, adventure found its place at the heart of my physical and emotional recovery.
From learning to kayak in a local swimming pool (with a few too many capsizes to count), I have gone on to achieve things beyond what I thought would ever exist within the realms of possibility for someone with a disability.
Until my injury, I’d never really met or known anyone with a physical disability, let alone a spinal cord injury. How wrong my preconceptions had been about what existed within the ‘art of the possible’.
The real turning point in my journey had, in all truth, come from failure. Between 2017 and 2019 I had chased the dream of competing at the Tokyo Paralympics in sprint kayaking, only to struggle with injury.
It was against this backdrop, and remembering the promise I’d made myself in the moments after my fall, to never give up.
I came up with the idea that would change my life once more. Would it be possible to kayak the 1,400 kilometres from Land’s End to John O’ Groats?
Kayak 4 Heroes
Fast-forward 12 months, and I would find myself leading a team of five injured veterans in the challenge of achieving just that. A true world first, and the single greatest and most challenging month-long adventure of my life.
I certainly couldn’t have appreciated it at the time, but leading the Kayak 4 Heroes expedition in the summer of 2021 would, in turn, lead to opportunities I could never have possibly envisaged.
Once again, I would find myself re-defining the boundaries of what I thought possible for someone with a disability.
The World Marathon Challenge is an iconic global adventure that sees participants run seven marathons in seven consecutive days across seven continents – a feat that has been achieved by less than 200 people throughout history.
Until now, this challenge hasn’t been attempted by anyone with a physical disability.
Taking on the World Marathon Challenge
As of 25 October, I will be taking on the challenge of running the standard 42.2km marathon distance in Antarctica, Africa, Australia, Asia, Europe, South America and North America within 168 hours – or seven days.
Battling the frozen winds of Antarctica, the searing heat of the Middle East, and the shear exhaustion of running seven consecutive marathons, I will be once again pitting myself against the limits of my disability.
Before saying yes to the opportunity, I’d never completed a marathon. But something inside of me told me to believe in my determination, grit, and ability to overcome the odds.
There are no guarantees of success, and the list of why this might not work was certainly longer than the list of why it might, but nothing ventured nothing gained.
By the time you’ll be reading this article, I will be deep into my training with a little over two months left until I fly down to Antarctica to tackle marathon number one on the snow and ice of the world’s most southerly continent.
Training has been tough. I’ve pushed myself to greater and greater distances, in all conditions. I have embodied the mindset of ‘adapt and overcome’ to find the right approach to successfully completing each marathon (as well as managing the other aspects of my disability).
So, why am I taking on this challenge?
First, it is to show others that regardless of the challenges they face in life, it is so important that we make that commitment to ourselves not to be beaten, not to give up, and to emerge stronger for having lived through those moments of challenge.
Second, I have been given the opportunity to raise money for a charity very close to my heart: the Armed Forces Para-Snowsports Team (AFPST), and am aiming to raise £80,000 to pay for 25 newly injured servicemen/women to learn to ski for the first time in 2023.
It is for them that I take on the greatest challenge of my life…
Donate to Darren Edwards’ Just Giving page at justgiving.com/fundraising/darrenworldmarathonchallenge