Published 13th May 2024, 18:45

    WE met beneath the towering red cantilevers of the Forth Bridge on a morning cloaked in grey, the low rumble of trains passing overhead every few minutes.

    To all appearances, we were just another group coming together for a stroll along the Fife Coastal Path. But it was so much more than that – this is a party about to tackle something extraordinary.

    Later this year – November 4 to be exact – six Scots with severe acquired brain injuries will set off on a massive challenge to trek to Everest Base Camp. It's believed this feat has never before been achieved.

    The participants have all been involved with Headway, the brain injury association which has branches all over the UK and is helping organise this incredible journey along with a man who has the Himalaya close to his heart, James Lamb. The six are from different backgrounds and of varying ages and the circumstances of their injuries are specific but the one thing they all have is a steely determination and core fitness that has proved vital in aiding recovery.

    As we walked along the coast from North Queensferry to Dalgety Bay, I heard their stories: the devastating twists of fate that caused so much damage, the lengthy road to recovery and all the battles and bumps along that road, some of which still remain and will always do so, and the sheer willpower that will lead them to the foot of the world's highest peak. 

    There's Colin, the victim of a vicious street attack which left him with life-threatening blood clots on the brain that went dangerously unrecognised for so long. It was only after a collapse while out cycling that his condition was properly diagnosed and he received the correct care and attention he needed. Now he regularly visits schools as a part of a programme to teach and entertain youngsters on the importance of wearing cycle helmets.

    Then there's Mike, an ex-Royal Marine. He had been doing a winter climbing route on Ben Nevis and had successfully abseiled off as the weather closed in. But on the walk back down the glen to his car he slipped on ice and cracked his head.

    Nicholas is the youngest of the group. He suffered a major head injury at the age of 17 while skiing in Switzerland that saw him airlifted and put on life support. After weeks on the edge, he eventually made it through but the accident had shattered his dreams of joining the RAF and becoming a pilot. He has now turned his hand to dog training and has his own business, which involves his white husky Annie as his 'partner'.

    At the other end of the scale is Peter. Now approaching 64, Peter has had severe epilepsy since his 40s and had to have a brain operation to alleviate the dangerous seizures that occurred several times a week. Although it was mostly successful, it damaged his memory, long and short term, and has trouble remembering names. Nevertheless, he feels he is lucky to be able to get out and walk when so many at his Headway group cannot.

    And there's Niall, so critically injured in a car crash in South Africa 26 years ago that he was given little chance of survival. He was in a coma for 13 weeks and when he emerged from it, he was told by doctors it was unlikely he would never walk again. Two months later his determination to prove them wrong had him back on his feet.

    Walking with us with Evelyn, Niall's mum, who will also be trekking to Everest. Her many years of helping to care for her son and aid his rehabilitation saw her become more and more involved with Headway and she now plays a major role in her local section of the organisation.

    For James Lamb, this is just the latest in a series of Everest challenges. He's the founder of the Little Sherpa Foundation, a charity he set up with the help of his friend Tashi Lama in response to the Everest Base Camp disaster in 2014. It was ten years ago, on April 18, that a massive ice avalanche swept down on the camp and changed so many lives. In that few seconds, 16 locals were killed, leaving 54 children without fathers.

    James had been on the summit of Kala Patthar that day looking over to Everest, unaware of what was unfolding. He was told about the scale of the tragedy by Tashi, a Buddhist monk at nearby Tengdoche Monastery. Tashi said he wanted to establish a trekking agency whose profits would fund a charity to help those children, and the Little Sherpa Foundation was born.

    The charity has since provided hundreds of scholarships to primary and secondary children as well as college and university students. It has been involved in rebuilding schools, health clinics, monasteries, community centres and homes, and it employs Sherpa teachers and nurses. It's been a huge challenge, but this latest venture could be the biggest yet. 

    We walked for about four hours, chatting and getting a feel for what can be expected on such a momentous trip. The excitement amongst the group is palpable. It's also infectious. 

    When he first heard that Colin was going on the Everest trip Nicholas said: “Don't go without me.” You just know that they are all in this together, helping and supporting each other every inch of the way. 

    After the traumas they have suffered and endured, there's a real feeling that they are about to take another hugely successful step forward in their lives.