An eight-year-old boy, whose mum has terminal cancer, set himself the challenge of becoming the youngest person to ever climb Old Man Of Hoy, the imposing sea stack off Scotland’s north coast.
Edward, from Caithness, Scotland, reached the peak of the 449ft (137m) ascent on Saturday 9 June to raise money for the charity Climbers Against Cancer. “My mum has cancer and I would love a cure to be found,” he says.
Edward’s mother Bekki Christian has breast cancer, which spread to her liver and bones in 2016 and she was told by doctors that it is now incurable. When Edward first started training for the challenge she didn’t think she’d see him complete it, but she was able to take the ferry and watch as her son scaled the rock.
“I am so proud of him. Proud of the way that he is planning on just getting his head down and doing it,” she tells HuffPost UK. “Full of admiration for him and I am grateful to him, wanting to see him do this has given me purpose over the last few months as my health has declined and I was told in February that I wouldn’t be here to see it. I know that he is doing it for me. That feels really so very special.”
Edward has been climbing pretty much ever since he learnt to walk. “On a holiday to Cornwall when he was 18 months old we turned our back for a minute and he was half way up a cliff,” says his mum.
And Edward adds: “They lost me at nursery once because I had climbed up a tree - 25ft in the air - and was looking at what was going on below. All the other children went inside but I stayed on my perch, waving at the teachers. I think they were scared. I wasn’t.”
He started competition climbing in 2017. He came third in the south west youth climbing series competition and won a place at the national finals in Edinburgh.
“It was then that we realised that he was actually quite good,” says Bekki.
The previous year had been tough for the family, but in 2017 Bekki’s cancer stabilised and she felt well enough to throw herself into making memories for Edward and his big brother 10-year-old George.
“The memories I wanted them to have of me and of us were as outdoor adventurers,” she says. So they did lots of camping; climbed Ben Nevis and Cader Idris in Wales, and Bekki did a sponsored Macmillan marathon of the Cotswold Way.
“I wanted to show the kids that you can still achieve and persevere when life throws you lemons. That you should give back to people who help you, like Macmillan. And I wanted them to love the outdoors like I did.”
The family also embraced Edward’s passion for climbing, hiring a guide to take them on Dartmoor and making a trip to the Stannage edge in Sheffield.
“For me sitting on top of a hill with my boys, just us and the wilds around us, is my happy place,” explains Bekki. “That is where our big conversations happen. About death and life. What their lives will be like without me. How I want them to be happy and work hard. How they will always carry me around in their heads and their hearts even when I am not physically present.”
Edward hatched his plan to climb the Old Man of Hoy, which he describes as “a big tower in the sky”, after reading that a 10-year-old boy had earned the title of the youngest person to ever climb it.
His parents chatted to his coaches, Ben West and Cailean Harker from Up Grade in Bristol, and they all agreed he had it in him to tackle this challenge.
“He has the right skills as a climber and he is a tenacious chap,” says Bekki. “Climbers Against Cancer was a charity we were aware of through Edward’s climbing and we felt that it would be a good opportunity to raise some money for them, to give back to the community that had given us so much to enjoy and distract us from living with having cancer.”
Bekki’s husband, Nathan Mills, set up a Just Giving page for their son and at the time of writing he had already beaten his fundraising target and raised more than £11,000.
“We have been absolutely blown away by the amount of money that has been raised,” says Bekki. “I think people like to donate to show their love and support for us as a family when there is nothing else they can do.”
Edward’s main concern ahead of the challenge was that he didn’t want to put his hands in bird poo.
“I want to climb all my life. My brother and I are getting a van when we are older and will travel around climbing,” he says. “My mum taught us to love the outdoors, so she will be with us wherever we go. When I climb I don’t think about anything else. When my arms ache and my fingers are red I like to eat fish and chips to fill me up after climbing.”
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