Three Kiwi tetraplegics set off for the Himalayas today, aiming to cycle up 10 mountain passes and raise $1 million in the process.
They are being led by former equestrian Catriona Williams, who founded the CatWalk Spinal Cord Injury Trust after she was injured in a riding accident in 2002.
The three hand-cyclists will be backed by 12 carers and support crew on the expedition, called The Big Cycle.
"This is going to be a real test of character, not just for the three of us but also for our carers and support crew, because we will be pretty dependent on them," Ms Williams, of Masterton, said.
"Any tetraplegic will tell you they don't like being dependent . . . but this is about making sure we're properly equipped and can safely complete the trip."
The team has undertaken intensive preparation, including training in a hyperbaric chamber to get used to the high altitudes.
"There are a whole lot of things we have to be careful about because we don't have the same strength that others do. But it seems with all the research that, as long as we don't try and rush and just take our time, we should be fine."
They had also trained in wet and muddy conditions to fully test their equipment and protective clothing. The crew includes Ms Williams' husband, Sam, three carers, a team doctor, and fellow tetraplegics Neil Cudby and Rob Creagh.
Tauranga-based Mr Cudby said he had hand-cycled for 13 years but did not have any particular experience with mountain peaks. "I'm a New Zealand boy from the central North Island, so this is pretty new to me."
Ms Williams got in touch with him when she was first trying to join the proposed international expedition, and he said he was immediately on board.
"My wife and children are a bit worried, of course, but the rest of the family are very excited to see how things go.
"It's just about the adventure, I think, seeing how well you can push yourself."
The crew set off from Wellington today and will make their way to Lhasa, in Tibet, to begin their expedition on Friday.
They will cycle for 28 days and cross 10 mountains, including a trip to Mt Everest Base Camp, before their final stop in Kathmandu.
Ms Williams said it took a certain kind of person to be up for such a unique challenge.
"Everybody has that sense of adventure. They are all doing it because they want to, but also because they want to see us achieve something they may not have thought possible."
- The Dominion Post
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