“I've always wanted to do something crazy like climb a mountain”
Max Stainton is an inspiration. Born with Cerebral Palsy, he started riding at the age of 5 with the Riding for the Disabled Association. This year he takes on his biggest challenge yet, the aim to reach Everest Base Camp on horseback, a world first. Tara Punter finds out more.
Max has faced many challenges in his life, but none greater than this. The idea came about as he’s always had a desire to really push himself, proving his disability won’t limit him.
“I’ve always wanted to do something crazy like climb a mountain, and I knew that the only way that would be possible for me is if I did it on horseback. I use a wheelchair daily, and I am an experienced rider, so when I heard about the RDA’s plan to build a new National Training Centre in the Midlands, it seemed like the perfect excuse to fulfil my dream as well as giving back to a charity that has helped me so much in my life,” he explains.
Max truly believes that riding has been the most consistently beneficial form of therapy for his condition, giving him a sport to compete in with everyone else and giving him a social circle within which to make great friends and grow as a person.
"After a ride, I can walk and hold myself straight"
“I can say with absolute confidence that the RDA has helped me immensely, particularly with my physical strength. After a ride, I can walk and hold myself straight, something I would struggle with normally.”
Fundraising is both an important and enjoyable task for Max, yet he’s never taken on such a large-scale project. His core team mean the world to him and make not only this challenge, but daily life possible.
“Everything I do in my life requires a team of committed individuals helping and supporting me, that I trust completely. I’m always surrounded by family, carers, and people who help me to do day to day tasks. I require 24-hour care, so I have someone to type for me at work, someone to help me get dressed in the morning, and my girlfriend looks after me the rest of the time. I need help to eat, drink, get dressed, go to the toilet, basically everything. So it’s a vital part of my life!”
"Everything I do in my life requires a team of committed individuals helping and supporting me"
Riding to Everest Base Camp would be challenging enough for an able-bodied athlete, yet Max’s circumstances makes this even more admirable.
“This trek is not something that I could ever imagine doing on my own, but I don’t think it’s something anyone should do on their own. Our team is very close, and I imagine that we’ll only get closer as the trek goes on.”
The training is almost complete, as Max and his team head out in April and final preparations continue to be made. There have been two primary aspects to the training regime; the first of which is the endurance riding. Max spends up to six consecutive hours in the saddle, either in the Leicestershire countryside or with the Stratford-upon-Avon RDA group where he used to ride as a child. The second element is stair-climbing, as he explains below.
“A lot of the trail up to Base Camp, particularly at the beginning, will require me to dismount for safety reasons. For example, I can’t ride the horse across a rope bridge, or up steep steps. So to train for these parts of the trek, I’ve been climbing the seven stories of stairs in my building with the help of my Physiotherapist, as walking is not my strong point!! I was thrilled when I managed to do four full ascents and descents of my building in one go, so that’s 28 storeys up! My target is to get to 50+ before heading out to Nepal.”
The logistical planning of an adventure of this scale requires exceptional precision and are being handled by Gavin Bates of Adventure Alternative. The 8,000ft ascent should take 12 days and upon completion, Max will be the first person to have completed the journey on horseback with Cerebral Palsy.
“Horses are used on this trail a lot, but usually to take sick or injured people back down the mountain, rather than all the way up! I’ve been immensely inspired by the different disabled people who have completed the trek before me, either on foot, by crawling or in a variety of other ways. It doesn’t matter how you do something, it’s still an incredible achievement to do it at all!”
Logistics planner Gavin has also helped source a Nepalese horse for Max to ride. Equipment is of utmost importance; Max rides in bucket stirrups so a lot of research has been done to find the most lightweight saddle and stirrups for the journey. He also struggles to regulate his own body temperature so finding the warmest clothing possible is imperative.
When it comes to the event, the support team will be as courageous as ever, helping Max with one of the most inspiring challenges of all time.
“My girlfriend Candy takes on most of my day-to-day care, so she’ll be travelling with us. I’ll also have my friends Giles, Livi and Carl with me – Giles and Livi help me when I ride, and Carl is making a film about the trek. I’m also bringing my Physiotherapist, and two of my most trusted RDA instructors. My friend Adam, who will be flying into Nepal all the way from California, will be helping Candy to look after me during the trek. And that’s just some of the people who are actually coming with me!”
"I really hope that we can raise a sizeable chunk of money to go towards the Centre"
“Our team wouldn’t be complete without the friends and amazingly committed people who are supporting Riding Everest in other ways. We’ve got this incredible social media and marketing manager called Anastasia who has given up huge amounts of time for us. Plus, Giles’ parents Louise and Christopher have generously let us stay with them for countless training weekends in Leicestershire, where I have ridden their horse, Goose. “
The feeling of elation upon completion of this daunting task is unparalleled. It truly displays the admirable power of one’s mind and the true possibilities if you really focus on the outcome.
“I’m hoping that my journey will inspire others to take on their own challenges, but I also hope that it’s going to inspire generosity among those who hear about it. The RDA’s National Training Centre will help countless other disabled people just like me and will bring them all of the benefits I have enjoyed. I really hope that we can raise a sizeable chunk of money to go towards the Centre, as I truly believe it will allow RDA riders and instructors to reach new heights and will be a fantastic step towards para-equestrian world domination!!”