Legendary adventure climber Leo Houlding and adaptive adventurer Ed Jackson – both Berghaus ambassadors – are unlikely mountaineering partners. They first met after Ed, a former professional rugby player who broke his neck diving into a swimming pool, said he wanted to climb Mont Blanc. We talk to them both about wild places and wild people, rebuilding your life after spinal cord injury and why new friends and big mountains are a recipe for growth.
Finding Our Way podcast champions diverse outdoor voices and is proudly sponsored by Berghaus.
So what made you head to the mountains after your injury?
Ed: It happened by chance. It wasn't like, 'okay I'm going to go to the mountains because that's where I'm going to heal’. I was nine months' post-operation, I'd been in hospital four months. It was hard to stay motivated really, because I didn’t have an end goal. So I wanted to put something in place to motivate myself to carry on with my recovery.
Your recovery massively depends on the nature of your injury. I have a partial spinal cord injury, and some well-meaning people were saying, come on, you'll be fine, you'll get back on your feet, back to full health. And that just wasn't going to be the case with the nature of my injury. My first goal was use my arms again. I was fighting for independence, really.
I was told by my doctors that I was never going to walk again. Because I was a rugby player, my accident was in the news and I started getting messages from people who had been through this process before, former Paralympians. I was clinging onto those people, thinking, ‘Maybe it will, maybe it won't, but, you know, at least I've got to try to walk’.
I had a support network that a lot of other people on the spinal unit didn’t have. I was lucky.
So I wanted to pay that forward. I wanted to try and inspire other people in hospital who had also been given a negative or guarded prognosis. There were plenty of people there who were also told that they were never going to walk again.
How has mountaineering changed your recovery journey?
Ed: Being outdoors is massively helping me deal with such a life changing time of my life. I lost my identity and purpose. I was a professional sportsman, and then I was the exact opposite in a matter of seconds. I had to cope with that and re-find myself.
And working out different techniques to move in the mountains and discovering more about my body is half the fun of it. There's that balance element and that fear element. You're wanting to get your neurology firing as hard as possible to create new links and learn new movements.
Tell us about Millimetres 2 Mountains
Ed: We’re a charity that helps people who have been through any sort of trauma, physical or psychological, to get back on track. Our current beneficiaries include people who have PTSD, who’ve had bereavement, survived physical injuries, anything that's knocked them off their path in life.
One of the first things that happens when you're struggling with trauma, especially psychologically, is you tend to retreat within yourself. So it's encouraging people to become a community and be around other people who have also been through trauma to share their experiences, get out of their comfort zone and realise they're more capable than they thought they were. We do it in the outdoors on adventures, all over the world.
But just taking someone on an amazing trip and then saying goodbye to them afterwards isn't going to change their life. So we design a three year programme with each person, where we fund life coaching, retraining, therapy, whatever it might be, to cement that change. It starts with the outdoors and an adventure, but then goes into a programme where you put practical steps in place to help them change their lives.
I never imagined my life would be running a charity. But I was resuscitated three times and I think that gives you a bit of a reality check. It makes you question what you do with your life and what's really important. And I found I love climbing mountains and I really enjoy helping people. So why not try and combine the two? And that's what's happened. And it's actually worked.
FOLLOW: Ed and Leo on social
Closer to the Edge with Leo Houlding, Friday 18th November 2022 | 5pm
Adaptive Adventure hosted by Ed Jackson, Saturday 19th November 2022 | 4pm
Meet our guests from Season 1:
Rehna Yaseen: Free kit, ‘BAME’ and inspiring young South Asians
Euan Ryan: Making films, climbing and hidden disabilities
Bonita Norris: Everest, ethics and disordered eating
Rob Mitchell: Cake, maps, and gay, bi- & trans lads outdoors
Cherelle Harding: Urban community, reggae and rolling down hills
Stu Skinner: Deserts, jungles and mental health training
Finding Our Way is sponsored by Berghaus, and hosted by BMC walking ambassador Mary-Ann Ochota. Our editor is Chris Stone. Get involved with the conversation. Share your thoughts on @TeamBMC on Instagram and Twitter with the hashtag #FindingOurWay
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Finding Our Way is the new BMC podcast where our guests are as diverse as the outdoors should be.
Hosted by BMC Hillwalking Ambassador and TV Broadcaster Mary-Ann Ochota and Expedition Leader and equity champion Cress Allwood, the podcasts aims to diversify the people we normally hear talking about the outdoors, celebrate their stories and shine a light on their insights.
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