Kilkeel marathon runner Gordy Graham swapped his running shoes for hiking shoes last week as he climbed Africa’s highest peak in aid of injured sports players.
Gordy joined former Ulster and Ireland rugby star Stephen Ferris and 30 others to ascend the 19,341 feet Mount Kilimanjaro in aid of the IRFU Charitable Trust.
The carpenter said that climbing Africa’s highest point was something that was on his bucket list but that it was fate that led him to signing up for the challenge.
“The Irish Rugby Football Union Charitable Trust was set up to assist severely injured rugby players in their everyday lives, and help to restore their confidence and independence.
“There are currently 34 seriously injured players registered with the Charitable Trust in Ireland, most of whom are wheelchair bound and have some form of permanent paralysis.
“I have a friend Mike Scott who benefits from the Trust,” said Gordy.
However it was a post on social media that led Gordy to signing up to climb the highest free-standing mountain in the world.
The 34-year-old said that Mount Kilimanjaro is something that he always wanted to take on.
“The information regarding the climb just came up on my Facebook feed one day in a sponsored post and I just thought that’s fate, so I said that I would climb it.
The Kilkeel carpenter is no stranger to sports, being an avid marathon runner, having completed over eight marathons but he said that atmosphere on the mountain was something else.
“There were thousands of people on the mountain, which I could not believe. A lot of the others struggled with altitude but thankfully I did not.”
Gordy added that it was a surreal experience as they “started off in shorts” but by the time they reached the top “it was about minus 15 or 20 degrees”.
“In total we were eight days on the mountain. It took quite a while, we walked about eight hours a day, but it was an amazing experience.
“On the summit day, we started walking at midnight and got to the top just as the sun was starting to come up so that was lovely”.
Gordy said that it was “different” having to sleep in a tent but the porters who assisted them were amazing.
“They carried up your bags and tents and sang right up to the summit to keep the morale going among us.
“When we came back down we went to a rugby development club and were doing a bit of training out there and some of the rugby stars took a couple of classes.”
Gordy said that the 12-day expedition was a “once-in-a-lifetime opportunity” but now he has completed it, it has given him the drive to perhaps climb another mountain.