The selection process is complete for the return to Mount Aconcagua in 5 weeks time. Jake Gardner, Sean Winder, Kelda Wood and Del Spry have earned their places alongside core team members Martin Hewitt, Terry Byrne, Matt Nyman and Jaco van Gass.
4 years after suffering life-changing injuries in Afghanistan, Jake Gardner will be climbing Mount Aconcagua with the Adaptive Grand Slam team.
On 13 January 2013, the armoured vehicle in which the former RAF Gunner was travelling hit a ditch at 60mph. His left arm snapped upon impact and he suffered lacerations to both his legs when he was catapulted out of the vehicle.
Jake received treatment at Queen Elizabeth Hospital in Birmingham and at Headley Court, but was medically discharged, because of the injury to his arm, 2 years later.
After hearing about the Adaptive Grand Slam from Help for Heroes, Jake proved himself on the training weekends in the Black Mountains and on Grand Paradiso: “I wanted to show that life doesn’t end when you get injured or medically discharged from the military. That you can still excel, regain confidence, adapt, push yourself and achieve big goals.”
Sean Winder joined the army at 20 years old and believed that if he was fit and strong enough bullets would bounce off him, just like they did off the Incredible Hulk.
It was on his first tour in Afghanistan that he found out this wasn’t the case. While out on patrol, Sean was engaged in a firefight. With the whip and crack of rounds flying over their heads, his team tactically retreated with Sean bringing up the rear. He still remembers the sound as he was hit and the cries of “man down”. That’s when he realized he wasn’t bullet proof.
His leg was shot to pieces, requiring years of operations and rehab. The hard work’s paid off and Sean is now joining the Anconcagua team: “I’m eager to prove to myself that I’m still the man I once was. Just because I’ve been shot, doesn’t mean I can’t achieve physically demanding tasks."
Growing up, Kelda Woods’ real passion was horses and her sporting ambition was to represent GB in the equestrian events at the Olympics. One day, when she was out exercising her horse, it shied at a plastic bag in a hedge and was hit by an overtaking lorry. Her horse died, Kelda was badly injured.
Her Olympic dream over, it took Kelda 12 months to get back on a horse. She turned to racing and enjoyed some success, until a freak accident in the yard, left her with a serious leg injury.
Up until that point, Kelda’s world was dominated by sport, she was defined by it. So not being able to participate and compete was devastating. It took 10 years and a decision to climb Mount Kilimanjaro to help her reset her compass and find the “old Kelda”.
Now there’s no stopping her. She’s set up the charity Climbing Out; she’s joined the GB Paracanoe squad and reignited her Olympic flame and is climbing Mount Aconcagua with the Adaptive Grand Slam team.
Del Spry joined the army at 16, where he graduated as a Royal Signals Telecommunications Operator. During his 19-year career he was deployed on several tours, including Bosnia, Kosovo, Sierra Leone, Northern Ireland and Afghanistan.
It was on operation in Afghanistan in 2009, that Del suffered life-changing injuries. While assisting in the clean up of a downed vehicle, he drove over an IED, leaving him with a brain injury and deafness. He was flown home the next day.
That was when the real battle started. Dealing with a brain injury was very difficult and life after medical discharge, for a man who only ever wanted to be in the army, was, and is, seriously challenging.
Being invited to join the Adaptive Grand Slam team preparing to summit Mount Aconcagua in January 2017 has given Del a much needed focus: “It’s great being part of a well motivated, like minded team again, one that shares the same goal.”
Terry Byrne and Jaco van Gass are two of the core members of the Adaptive Grand Slam team and, as such, have both summited before. They have a lot of other things in common. They both lost limbs in Afghanistan. They've both cycled for Great Britain and they both love mountains and extreme adventure. Here, these two Adaptive Grand Slam Old Timers share an insight into what it takes to summit.