The Push

Posted in: Blog, by Mark Topley, on 13th January 2015 | Comments Off on The Push

Without any need for violins – last year was tough.

This is a particularly difficult time to be running a charity (or anything for that matter), and especially a charity which works outside of the mainstream, and particularly when there are emergencies like Ebola contributing to ‘compassion fatigue’ in the UK.

I don’t think I’m alone. Reading Social Media and chatting to friends, lots of people have had rough times, and many are continuing to face them.

Please understand, I’m not bleating – I don’t have time for whiners. By all means get it off your chest when something goes wrong, but I’m a firm believer that once that’s done then it’s time to get on with tackling things and put your best foot forward.

But when things seem to stack up against you constantly, and a few weeks of struggle turns into months, it gets harder and harder to dig deep.

That’s when you need the push.

Thinking about this over the holiday (aren’t holidays fantastic for giving you perspective once you let your brain quiet down?), I remembered a story from the Kilimanjaro climb I did back in 2011.


The climb was led by the legend that is Henk Blanckenburg – a towering man mountain who has been up and down Kilimanjaro more times than I’ve had hot dinners. I think my friends on the climb would agree with me that it was Henk’s belief in us, instilled in typical Henk fashion (‘this is going to be the best night of your lives!!!’) before the final climb that got most of us up to the top (we all summited by the way).

But it was a story Henk told of a previous climb when we chatted over a beer after our trip up and down Kili was over, which sticks with me.

He had led an event the year before with a group of around 16 young people, and had got delayed with half the group on the initial ascent of the scree slope. This is a painful and laborious section of the summit which takes around 8 hours overnight. After the scree you reach Gilman’s Point, and from there it’s another 2 hours on and 200m up to Uhuru Peak – the actual summit of Kilimanjaro.

Once he reached Gilman’s and daylight came, Henk left the stragglers with the Tanzanian Guides and headed off to try and find the group who had gone ahead. After about an hour, he was surprised to find them walking down the path towards him, tired and deflated.

They explained that they had got to Stellar Point, around halfway between Gilman’s and Uhuru, and found it too tough – they were exhausted, had really bad headaches and were throwing up.

He checked them over for injuries, made sure they had plenty of water, and then looked into their eyes to make sure there were no signs of severe mountain sickness. Seeing nothing, his words to them then stick with me every time I get into a tough spot.

‘Now listen to me’ he told them, ‘you’ve come this far. You get one chance at this and once chance only. There is nothing wrong with any of you. Now turn the f*ck around and get back up that mountain…’

Sometimes you need a push. Someone who believes in you and can see beyond your frustration, your exhaustion, your tears, and tell you to get on with it.

I’m so grateful for the people who’ve done this for me in the past year. They’re still there and I know they will continue to push me through the undoubted challenges that are ahead in 2015. I’m glad I have close friends and mentors that do that for me. I hope I do a good job encouraging others and giving them the push when they need it.

All of the young climbers made it by the way. It’s funny what someone’s belief in you can do. And in turn what others can achieve when you show you believe in them…

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