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Axa’s Kilimanjaro Challenge kicks off

Where can you find an ex-rugby player, a wealth adviser, a honeymooning couple and a business development manager? Along with 36 other adventurous types, halfway up Mount Kilimanjaro as of Thursday.

The Axa Wealth Kilimanjaro Challenge sees 41 people including ex-Bath rugby prop David Barnes, Centurion Wealth Management IFA Stuart Doughty, Axa Wealth business development manager Nick Stokes, ex-Sale Sharks player Andy Blyth and Royal Logistics Corps major Alan Tindale scale the 6,000 metre-high mountain later this week in order to raise £100,000 for Help for Heroes, the Rugby Players Association Benevolent Fund and the Rugby Football Union Injured Players Foundation.

Barnes says: “I have been lucky enough to play professional rugby for over 15 years and while I have got away with a long career, some people suffer very serious injuries. These two charities look after the catastrophic injuries and this climb is a great opportunity for me to help those who are not as fortunate as me. Similarly, Help for Heroes has done such amazing work for soldiers and to have raised nearly £100m in four years is an incredible achievement.”

In addition to the charity work, Barnes, Doughty and Stokes also signed up for the climb for the camaraderie it will bring.

Stokes says: “The whole crack of getting together in pretty extreme circumstances and seeing how both yourself and others cope is quite fascinating. Summitting in one piece is obviously important but so is getting as many people through the ten-day experience as possible.”

Getting through the climb will certainly be the group’s biggest challenge. Only an estimated 40 per cent of climbers succeed, something Doughty  says is “slightly scary odds.”

He hopes for 90 per cent of the 41-strong team to make it to the top but thinks that 75 per cent will suffer from altitude sickness – something it is near impossible to prepare for.

Doughty says: “There is nothing we can do to train in the UK, altitude-wise. We are just trying to keep up our general levels of fitness. People say flippantly that if you smoke and drink you are probably better positioned to succeed than if you are fighting fit because your lungs are used to taking in less oxygen. We have done a few big team walks, both locally in Somerset and also in the Brecons. Without being rude, if Chris Moyles can do it as he did for the Comic Relief climb in 2009, then so can we.”

Barnes, the only team member who has scaled Kilimanjaro before, in 2008, knows only too well the effects of altitude sickness.

He says: “I am not actually sure why I am going back. Last time I suffered so much with altitude sickness that I developed a pulmonary oedema, so fitness clearly is not the key. Being prepared to do the miles helps but unfortunately, altitude sickness is a bit of a lottery.”

All three are adamant that team spirit will be essential in battling any illness or flagging morale that occurs along the way, however. “You have got to form groups pretty quickly in the first couple of days. In the last few days when you are not feeling great the teamwork and bonding will really come forward and help people through, which is a massive part of this for me.”

Stokes agrees: “The dynamics that will develop can be so satisfying when you are in hostile conditions. I have not climbed anything higher than Ben Nevis, so the sheer challenge of seeing how I get on and raising money for Axa’s nominated charity, Help for Heroes, are what I am looking forward to.”

Stuart Doughty, an IFA with Centurion Wealth Management, will be blogging during the 10 day expedition on the Money Marketing website

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