11 November 2021

Scaling the Welsh mountains for children’s cancer

Last month Sam Skinner, from Botley, completed the toughest mountain race in the world, the Dragons Back Race!

Wales is well known for its dragon folklore, and this race is just as dangerous with runners scaling the Welsh mountain ridges. Only 24% of participants finish the brutal race.

“I am a seasoned runner, and had ran over 2,000 miles in the last eight months to prepare myself for this challenge. I am the Joint Director for Hampshire-based SDS Roofing Services, so my job is physically demanding too. But nothing could fully prepare me for the race ahead,” comments Samuel.

We had six days to run from Conwy Castle in north Wales, to Cardiff Castle in the south.

This is no ordinary race. We ran over 380km (236 miles) and climbed over 60,000 feet – that’s over twice the height of Everest!

If you didn’t get to a check point within a certain time, you had to pull out. Every day I saw less and less participants start, and then near the end of the fifth day, I feared that might be me.

I was in the top 10 runners until the decent into Pen y Fan halfway through the day. I was climbing down the mountain and slipped over. Later in hospital I discovered I had a hairline fracture in my lower leg requiring a boot cast.

Within a matter of minutes my foot swelled up.

I refused to give up, and at the next checkpoint I ended up cutting my trainer open and taping it to my foot so I had some support for the rest of the race.

Unbelievably at the beginning of day six, I was still in the top 20 elite runners, so had to start the race at 7.30am rather than 6.00am giving me a massive time disadvantage with my leg.

I reached the 17 mile checkpoint with just seven minutes to spare. In this time I had to refuel and leave the checkpoint, there was no time to rest!

It took all my willpower to keep going through the pain.

I got so emotional seeing Cardiff in the distance. After five days of not seeing many people and just pure wilderness, the end was finally in sight. It was during one of the last big descents to Cardiff that I could see white bars of the Millennium Stadium, and I knew I was nearly there.

My wife and children were waiting for me at Cardiff Castle, and cheered me on to the finish line.

By now you must be wondering why I put myself through this. Why I didn’t give up, and why I continued running and walking 69 miles on a broken leg.

My nephew Freddie is seven years old. His friend Willow was diagnosed with cancer in 2020, and is being treated in the Piam Brown children’s cancer ward at Southampton Children’s Hospital.

She has remained strong throughout all of her treatments, and this kept me going during the Dragon’s Back Race.

At one of the day six checkpoints, a friend showed me a video of Willow wishing me good luck. That really spurred me on, and I picked up the pace again. Her determination helped me to stay motivated and finish the race!”

Incredibly Sam has raised over £13,837 for Piam Brown ward to provide family memories through trips and outings; equipment for the play rooms; patient, family and staff welfare, as well as research and education opportunities. Thank you from all of us at Southampton Hospitals Charity.

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