Taking on the challenge of climbing to over 5000m above sea level, for Operation Olympus, has without doubt been the toughest one yet. At Hockey for Heroes, the management team have a habit of putting on some crazy challenges, and this was definitely up there!
We had to overcome a number of challenges, both logistically, physically and mentally. Navigating our way around landslides, monsoon season and incredibly challenging roads just to get to our start point, we knew at that point the enormity of what we were taking on.
Fortunately, we had a team of fantastic sherpas who supported us in every way possible to get us up the mountain. We walked for roughly 7 hours a day in varying weather conditions and terrains through some of the most beautiful surroundings I have ever seen. We visited 3 different towns along the way to introduce Hockey to the local people and schools. The most memorable playing at 3700m in a tiny town called Muktinath, playing on the concrete football pitch and most of the locals coming out to play. That being said, we were all feeling the effects of altitude at that point, with headaches and breathlessness which again, honed in on the fact we had another 1400m to climb!
We trekked to our final stop at 4200m, dropped our heavy backpacks off and headed up a further 200m as an acclimatisation walk. At this point the effects of altitude kicked in. Many of us had thumping headaches and the extra ascent caused more fatigue, some nausea and breathlessness. Heading back down to 4200m, we had a team meeting, sharing our thoughts and feelings ahead of the attempt, we rallied around each other, everyone instilling belief and confidence in each other, despite some of us feeling unwell. We were off early to bed ready for our 3am alarm to head up to the world record attempt.
Waking up after possibly the worst nights sleep I’ve ever had, where my resting heart rate was 95 beats per minute whilst laying still in bed, we sat with our head torches on trying to stomach some museli with warm yak’s milk before heading off into the darkness. We followed a trail that was a steady climb all the way up, and we had the unforgettable experience of seeing sunrise over Dhaulagiri, an 8000m peak.
The final trek to the top was tough. Breathlessness and fatigue was affecting near enough everyone, and some of the pupils in the group struggled with sickness, but we carried on, focusing on getting one foot in front of the other. The Sherpas had gone on ahead and were setting up the pitch as we arrived. We played 40 minutes of 7 aside hockey, with a crowd of our 7 Sherpas. Rotations were quick, as moving any quicker than walking pace took your breath away. We were at over 5000m for about over an hour, and it was clear towards the end of the game that the altitude was having major effects on some of us, with more of us vomiting, extreme tiredness and fatigue. However, the sense of relief that we’d made it was something that I’d never experienced before. I looked round my team mates and the pupils from Lincoln Minster, and realised without them, there is absolutely no way I would have had this experience. A Hockey for Heroes we have an extraordinary capacity to support one another, even when someone doesn’t share that they’re finding things tough, and this was exactly the recipe which got us up the mountain and breaking the world record for the highest altitude game of hockey. The pupils, aged between 14-17 years old, were phenomenal. As adults on the trip, we found it tough and had to show some serious mental strength at times, and the pupils did exactly the same. Hockey for Heroes we’re seriously impressed by them, and proud to share the experience with everyone at Lincoln Minster school.
Once we’d got back down the mountain, are job was not over. We had gone to Nepal to develop a legacy of Hockey and share our amazing sport with those who have never experienced it. We visited schools and played small sided games with them, leaving behind kit and talking with their teachers on how they can integrate Hockey into their school life. The pupils at these schools got stuck in straight away and loved playing. We also had the privilege of playing against a regional team in Pokhara, where we were hosted by the Vice President of the Nepalese Hockey Association, who are working hard to get a full Astro turf in Kathmandu. From this, we were fortunate to get a reasonable amount of publicity in national papers and Nepalese news channels, which we hope will only support their mission of developing Hockey and getting their own astro turf.
It was an unforgettable trip, with a variety of experiences which we hope will have positively impacted on people’s lives, from those in remote towns of Nepal to the pupils at Lincoln Minster School.