A modern day ‘Band of Brothers’ from Ballymena are in training for a mountainous mission which will test their physical and mental toughness to the very limit.
The six locals - who are all former soldiers or reservists - are taking on the demanding ‘Five Peaks Challenge’ which involves climbing the highest mountains in the United Kingdom and Ireland in order to raise money for ABF - The Soldiers’ Charity.
Perhaps the best known figure on the team is Phillip ‘Barney’ Gillespie, a wounded veteran of Afghanistan where he lost his lower right limb in an IED blast.
He is no stranger to adventure, having taken part in the Dakar Rally for the past two years.
The idea for the challenge arose when members of the Ballymena Guardforce contacted Phillip to mull over some charity fund-raising options.
After some brainstorming the team settled on tackling the five peaks in five days.
The group, made up of Phillip, Adam Dunlop, Jonathan Clail, Steve Kane, Chris Campbell and Andy McFarland will tackle their first peak in the Republic of Ireland, climbing Carantuohill on August 17. They will then move onto Snowdon in Wales, Scafell Pike in England and Ben Nevis in Scotland.
They will finish their challenge back home in Northern Ireland by climbing Slieve Donard on August 21. Completing this challenge will see them tackling a combined ascent of 17,368ft and having walked along 60km of mountain paths.
Phillip explained why he was personally committed to raising funds for the ABF. The former Royal irish Regiment soldier was on his third tour of Afghanistan in January 2011 when he stood on an IED.
This resulted in him losing his lower right limb and suffering several fractures to his left leg.
And he is well qualified to speak on how important the help of ABF was in helping him cope with aftermath.
He explained: “Every second, every minute, every day for two weeks I replayed the incident in my head but then decided what was the point? It’s not about what happened, it’s about moving forward.
“From then on it was all about rehabilitation, physio and prosthetic legs. You realize that it wasn’t your fault, you were in a war zone, things like this happen.”
Although positive from the start about his situation it has made an obvious impact on his life and he appreciates how ABF helped adapt his home so that he can continue to live a normal life.
He added: ““The Soldiers’ Charity are unsung heroes, they just do the work and get on with the job quickly and quietly without any limelight or praise.
“The key thing for me is the aftercare that they provide, whether support once home from hospital or for the older generation. You know that they’ll always be there, just ticking away quietly.”
Although now medically discharged from the Army he will still be able to rely on this charity in any time of need.
An ABF spokesperson, David Forsey, explained: “The charity exists to help soldiers for life. Even when a soldier leaves the Army they are still part of our family and eligible for our help. The scope of our work is huge.” Being aware of the work of The Soldiers’ Charity, Phillip and his intrepid climbing team have set themselves a goal of raising a combined total of £5000.
There will be a number of fundraising events held to help them get to their total but they also people will get behind them by sponsoring them on their climb.
Although raising funds is the main priority the nature of this challenge means completing it will be an expensive task itself.
The group are pleased to be able to thank Todd’s Leap for sponsoring their fuel and to William Wright of Wrightbus for sponsoring their transport for the week.
They would also like to thank Mayor Audrey Wales for holding the launch of the Five Peaks Challenge and her ongoing support.
If anyone would like to get in contact you can send any queries to firstname.lastname@example.org or to donate you can go to www.justgiving.com/A-DUNLOP.