When Adam Collins decided to take part in an 18-mile trek along Hadrian’s Wall and raise money for two charities, he knew he wanted to do something special to make it stand out. So he decided to do it in full fire kit, including his breathing apparatus.
“I thought it would help me gain more donations, because it’s making the event harder for myself,” he says. “But I don’t think I appreciated just how hard it would be, how hot it would get, or what it would be like scrambling up and down cliff-like altitudes carrying an extra three stone on my back for over nine and a half hours.”
Adam took part in the event organised by the British Heart Foundation, and decided to split his fundraising equally between them and The Fire Fighters Charity.
“My brother had a heart attack when he was 30, and the BHF did a lot to help him afterwards,” says Adam. “Plus when I was a firefighter with North Yorkshire Fire and Rescue Service, I ruptured my bicep and spent time at Jubilee House in Cumbria, so wanted to thank The Fire Fighters Charity for that as well.
“I wish I’d sought psychological help while I was there, as my injury led to me having to leave the fire service. It felt like a bereavement; it wasn’t my choice to stop being a firefighter, so it’s been hard to deal with mentally as well as physically. The fire service has been a massive part of my life, so I wanted to combine the two causes by brazenly doing an 18-mile hike in full kit.”
Adam spent five months training for the event covering large distances over all different types of terrain in his kit, but he says nothing could have prepared him for the route, or the unexpectedly warm day.
“Around the three-mile checkpoint, I honestly thought I might have to stop, because I didn’t know if I’d be able to go any further,” he says. “You can’t plan for the weather, and when the sun came out, I felt like a boiled potato. So many people had shown me support – from suppliers who had donated the kit for my efforts to friends who’d been following my progress and my daughter’s nursery who held an emergency services day to help with my fundraising – that giving up just wasn’t an option. I had to keep having breaks to release some of the heat and rest.
“The people along the way kept me going; I was right at the back and the marshals were constantly encouraging me. We’d talk about the charities we were raising money for, and our reasons for doing so. Then when we got to the half way mark, someone said it got slightly easier, and I knew I just had to keep pushing on.”
To put the difficulty of the course into a little perspective, of the 400 participants who’d started the trek, 100 of them did not make it past the half way line. And they were all doing it in normal hiking gear, rather than a full fire kit and carrying a breathing apparatus.
“I don’t know how I did it,” says Adam. “You’d come to the top of hills and people would being sick, and there was a point called Sycamore Gap that was an absolute killer. Going down was almost as bad as going up, because you were clambering down near-vertical slopes, trying to step over boulders the size of my knee, in the kit. I remember thinking, if I fall, I’m going to need much more than The Fire Fighters Charity.”
With the finish line within his reach, Adam received a welcome surprise. Two miles from the end, with no one else behind him except event marshals, Adam was joined by his godfather: “He was waiting for me as a surprise, and walked the last two miles with me. And what’s more, when I rounded the corner to the finish line, I saw he’d brought my parents with him. I have to admit, it was definitely a wobbly lip moment. And then crossing that line and knowing it was all over was such an amazing feeling. I still can’t really believe I managed it.”
For Adam, going through such a feat just goes to show how physically demanding the role of a firefighter is: “You have to go through so much in the role and put in so much effort to your day-to-day jobs. It’s not something someone can just walk into. The fire service is a hard enough job, but when you’re injured or dealing with mental health issues, knowing that extra support is there from the Charity is so valuable. Being able to raise money to help other people who may be in the same situations I’ve been in is a great feeling.”