When Julie Morris suffered serious injuries in a mountain fall, she set her sights on recovery â€“ and a third go at the Caledonian Challenge, writes Erin Byrne
Julie Morris is no stranger to adversity. Having successfully completed the Caledonian Challenge in 2011 and again in 2012, she had a disastrous fall in the mountains last spring while training to enter a third time. But she has battled back to fitness and is now contemplating a return to the hills â€“ and even another go at the hugely popular charity event.
It all started when she spotted a flyer that had been sent to her office promoting the Challenge, a team event in which participants walk 54 miles in under 24 hours along the West Highland Way to raise money for Foundation Scotland.
Julie, of Airdrie, North Lanarkshire, saw this as an invitation to explore Scotlandâ€™s wild countryside, and persuaded three friends to sign up with her â€“ the Caledonian Challenge requires at least four people per team.
Participants travel south through the day and night from Gairlochy, hiking in Glencoe, climbing the Devilâ€™s Staircase and crossing Rannoch Moor before reaching the finish line at Strathfillan, four miles south of Tyndrum. Walkers enjoy some of the most majestic views of Ben Nevis and Glencoe along the way.
Julie and her team, called The Stragglers, set about preparing for the event. They had to raise Â£400 each and so organised a range of fundraising events, activities and sponsorship.
They took their training seriously too and went on several walking excursions to toughen their feet and build up their endurance levels, taking to the hills on several occasions to test the terrain. This type of training is highly recommended in the run-up to the event, which is more than your average walk â€“ the total height gained on the Caledonian Challenge is the equivalent of climbing Ben Nevis twice.
All of the hard work paid off and The Stragglers stumbled across the finish line 23 hours and 11 minutes after settings off. It was no walk in the park; they endured painful blisters which made those last few miles very memorable indeed. â€œIt felt like we were walking on glass,â€ Julie recalls.
But despite saying â€œnever againâ€ when they crossed the finish line, they soon changed their minds. Julie says: â€œWe had such fun training and fundraising for the Caledonian Challenge. The event itself was filled with laughter; we got on so well together and helped spur each other on.â€
The following year, 2012, Julie and her teammates crossed the finish line after 22 hours and 4 minutes â€“ trimming more than an hour off their original time. â€œIt was even better second time around,â€ she says. â€œWe knew what to expect and although it was still really tough, we loved every second.â€
On Mothers Day last year, Julie set out for a hill walk with two friends as part of her training for her third Challenge. At an altitude of about 2,500 feet, they tried to traverse down Ben Oss, near Crianlarich, in difficult wintry conditions. As she followed her companions down, Julie slipped and fell 650 feet to the icy ground below.
Darkness was looming and the weather worsening when a Royal Navy helicopter rescued the three, airlifting Julie to a hospital in Glasgow.
She has since undergone several operations and has only in recent weeks returned to work. She has metal inserts in her one leg and jokingly refers to herself as â€œthe tin womanâ€, showing her humour and positive outlook.
â€œIâ€™m already thinking about taking part in the Caledonian Challenge again. I need to give my body some time to adjust, but I am really looking forward to lacing up the old walking boots and getting some long distance hikes under my belt.
â€œI thoroughly enjoyed all aspects of the Challenge; the training, the fundraising, the great laugh with friends and that real sense of achievement that washes over you when you reach the finish line â€“ thereâ€™s nothing quite like it. Whatâ€™s more, knowing that all our hard work and endeavour is to raise money for such a good cause helps to keep you motivated, even in the face of ravenous midges and despite those awful blisters.â€
All money raised from the Caledonian Challenge goes to Foundation Scotland, which distributes funds to charities and community groups. Last year 900 people took part, raising more than Â£600,000 for the Foundation.
Events manager Fraser Lennox said: â€œIt is great to see funds from the Caledonian Challenge being used to support local charities and community groups across Scotland. In 2013, Foundation Scotland awarded grants to a wide variety of organisations and projects. They included a community garden for adults with learning difficulties, sports clubs and cafes for young people, helped pay for transport to keep older people active in the communities they helped create and funded a variety of womenâ€™s groups.
â€œThe Caledonian Challenge is all about doing something fun, something challenging and something adventurous for a good cause. It is inspiring to see participants like Julie really embrace the spirit of the event and return time and again. We wish her a speedy recovery and look forward to seeing The Stragglers reunited on the event very soon.â€
If youâ€™d like to get a team together and enter the Caledonian Challenge 2014, on 14-15 June, visit Caledonian Challenge