Reach for the sky! Sky Sports presenter Jeff Stelling will swap the TV studio for the thin air of Mount Kilimanjaro in June when he joins former football stars Colin Cooper and Craig Hignett in a massive fundraising effort.
The trio will be part of a group of 15 intrepid explorers who will attempt to reach the 4,895m summit of Africa’s highest mountain to raise vital cash for the Finlay Cooper Fund in aid of children’s charities.
The Fund was set up by former Middlesbrough, Millwall and Nottingham Forest defender Cooper and his wife Julie in memory of their son, Finlay, who died in a tragic choking accident shortly before his second birthday 10 years ago.
Also heading for Africa are Middlesbrough fans Andy Gunn, Tony Dye, Phil Dinsdale, Chris Masterson, Stephen Ainsley, Newcastle supporter Dave Rowlands, plus Millwall supporter Jason Pickering.
The group will fly out to Africa on June 7 and hope to reach the summit on June 14.
To sponsor Jeff and his fellow Kilimanjaro trekkers visit www.virginmoneygiving.com/team/finlaycooperfund
Any business interested in being main sponsor of the expedition should contact Graham Fordy on 07802 553553 to discuss the range of potential benefits.
Fly: Is this the biggest challenge you’ve done for the Finlay Cooper Fund?
CC: Oh way, way and above. And I think there’s less people involved in this than there’s been in anything we’ve done, whether it’s the 5 and 10k round Middlesbrough or the Great North Run or the dinners and balls that we’ve had. We’ve had a lot less people but the logistics of getting 15 people to the top of a mountain. One of the trusties Nick Waites brought it up, he suggested it earlier on. Where I was a little bit wary and a little but scared I suppose, he kept chipping away and in the end I said yeah lets go for it. So it’s something completely different but something we’re really looking forward to.
Fly: And it’ll raise the profile of the trust as well won’t it?
CC: Yeah you’re right. Myself and Craig (Hignett) keep it very local to the area but with Jeff Stelling coming on board, he’s taken it national for us and it’s given us a completely different profile, one that I’m very very grateful for.
Fly: You do a lot of work in South East London as well as here, with Millwall fans, notably Jason Pickering don’t you?
CC: Yeah, well Jason is coming on the climb as well which is great and I’m really chuffed that he has chosen to come. Ian from Millwall as well, so I’m really pleased that we have all the links from all the various places. As well as myself, Craig and Jeff there’s another 10/12 really good men coming on the climbing trip, I’m really looking forward to it. As well as it being a huge challenge it will hopefully be one of those lifetime things you look back on and say “yeah, I did that!”
Fly: Have you ever done anything like this before?
CC: No, no I’m completely wet behind the ears. I’ve got no idea what I’ve put myself forward for. I do tend to keep myself at a reasonable level of fitness but this has got absolutely nothing to do with fitness, this is about altitude and whether your body is ready to go that high. It’s just short of 5000 metres above sea level so I think it’ll be a big challenge to get to the top but, fingers crossed. Finger crossed, I can take a little Dragon Fly and leave it at the top of Kilimanjaro.
Fly: You were a good team player; this is about team work isn’t it?
CC: Yeah it could be, I mean at the end of the day we are helping each other, to help the Finlay Cooper Fund, help other people. I’m really looking forward to it, I really am.
Fly: Two weeks ago you made big donation to Teesside children’s charities…
CC: Yeah we’re continually looking to make donations, I think in the current climate some of the people we have helped in the past, certainly the hospices, are finding it very hard to raise funds. So what we’ve done this year, which is probably slightly different, we’ve kind of put a figure to the hospices to just help with running costs. Normally, we supply equipment which we have done with Daisy Chain in Stockton, but with Zoe’s Place, The Butterwick Children’s Hospice and Demelza Children’s Hospice in South East London it’s more about them struggling to keep funds raised to keep these places open. So this year has been slightly different from that point of view but it’s something we are really pleased to be able to do.
Fly: I Guess actually just tagging their names to publicity just reminds people that these places constantly need money…
CC: With all due respect to ourselves we are very fortunate; everything we have done in the last 6 years has been fantastically well supported. The fundraisers at Zoe’s Place and at the Butterwick, they’re constantly fundraising 12 months a year so I know they’re having it hard. So as I say, slightly different this year but we’re happy to help.
Fly: So this is in June isn’t it?
CC: Yeah, June 7th through to the 16th. We fly out on the 7th and fly back on the 16th hopefully in one piece, with Kilimanjaro conquered.
Fly: Chris Kamara climbed Kilimanjaro a couple of years ago, did he offer much advice?
JS: Yes he did, he said don’t do it! No, he didn’t, he said that it was a fantastic experience and one of the toughest weeks of his life and that he wouldn’t do it again but he recommended it, once in a life time experience. But he made no bones about it; it was going to be tough.
Fly: What in particular is tough about the trek?
JS: It’s tough because it’s 19,000 feet, there’s no way you can train for that amount of altitude. You know Teesside University have got their altitude tent but I live along way from here now so basically it’s going to be long walks, which I do anyway. I think I’m relatively physically fit; the one thing you can’t do anything about is the altitude. You can take some precautions but if it gets you, it gets you. And that’s that.
Fly: A lot of people do this challenge, but there’s a percentage in every expedition that the altitude gets to them…
JS: There is yeah, there are tablets for it and you can go to the altitude tents and things like that but if you get it and get it badly then the advice is you turn back. I think everyone gets an element of it you know there is no doubt. Colin, Craig and I and a few of the other lads have been joking around about it this morning but I think there will be times on the way up there when we will feel a bit ropy, it’s just a question of to what degree.
Fly: And obviously it’s a team thing isn’t it…
JS: Yeah it is, I think it’s a state of mind. The physical challenge, I think we’ll all be able to cope with that, but it is a state of mind because conditions are going to be pretty unpleasant. I’m a southern softy these days, a 58-year-old southern softy as well. I’m not used to sleeping in a tent on a hard floor, and I’m not used to not being able to have a bath or a shower and I’m not used to not being able to have a beer. Those are the things you have to get tuned into. Look it’s a week, a week for a fantastic cause, just keep going. I’m sure we’ll all support each other.
Fly: It is a fantastic cause, the Finlay Cooper Trust isn’t it?
JS: Yeah, fantastic cause. You know I have kids of my own so it’s a subject close to my heart. If we can raise a 6 figure number to help local hospices in particular then that’s a fantastic cause. I’m lucky because I have a little bit of profile, that I don’t really deserve because I was never a footballer or earned a living out of football effectively, it’s nice to be able to give back. And have a good time as well by the way; you have to take that chance.
Fly: It’s a personal challenge as well isn’t it?
JS: Yeah, look it’s not something I ever thought about doing. I’m not an adventurer, I’m not a trekker. My idea of doing something adventurous is going to a football match at Millwall, which was pretty dangerous. But I’ve never done anything like this. In saying that I think I’d rather go up Kilimanjaro than do that again! I’m only joking, Jason one of the guys coming with us is a big Millwall fan.
Fly: Which do you think is the biggest achievement, you getting to the top of Kilimanjaro or Hartlepool escaping relegation?
JS: Well, we’ve both got our mountains to climb haven’t we? I think their achievement would be greater, the greatest footballing escape probably of all time. You think to how hopeless it all seemed and how far behind we were; now suddenly there’s just a glimmer of light at the end of the tunnel. There is still a long way to go, we’re going to need some great results between now and the end of the season. But it’s not impossible, not impossible. And I think that’s what every Pools fan would have said at Christmas, that it was impossible so you know who knows?
Fly: As Middlesbrough fans know, everything can change after Christmas…
JS: Yeah, I tell you I don’t get to see much of Boro but obviously I watched the live game when they were away at Leicester and they were absolutely fantastic that night and I thought, this is a side that’s going up. Just hasn’t worked out so far has it, big shame.