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Claires Court School teacher's 40 challenges at 40 to raise funds for NHS life savers

Former Maidenhead RFC captain Simon Cripps is taking on 40 challenges to mark his 40th birthday. He's raising money for the NHS who saved his life when he was severely burned.

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Just under 20 years ago Maidenhead RFC’s former captain, Simon Cripps, was out with friends, celebrating scoring five tries in a victory over local rivals Marlow RFC.

He was in Hawaiian fancy dress that night and was wearing three ‘proper grass skirts’ to cover his ‘rather large posterior’, when one of his friends shouted to him ‘You’re on fire!’

“At first I was like ‘yeah, they’re still going on about the game, stop massaging my ego’,” he said.

“But I was actually on fire. Someone had set light to the bottom of the grass skirt. I tried to take it off, but, frustratingly, because I had three of them on and I’d tied them up to make it fit, I couldn’t get them off. The fire got further and further up my calves, and you think you’ll be able to put it out. I was using my hands which were starting to smoulder a bit. And then I stupidly ran outside, which, on a cold winter night, sucked the fire up my back. I was lucky that one of my mates was able to catch up with me and he rugby tackled me to the ground. He managed to put me out with a coat. I remember looking back into a glass window and all I saw was a ball of flames.

“When I was in the ambulance they told me the fire had burned through to my fat, and when I got to the hospital I heard them say ‘just make him feel as comfortable as you can because he’s not going to last the night’.”

Simon wasn’t expected to survive the night. He spent time on a life support machine and was told when he woke – with dozens of leads going in and out of him – that he’d probably never walk again or be able to use his hands.

Remarkably, just seven months later - with the help of his parents and NHS staff at Stoke Mandeville Hospital – he defied those predictions and ran out to play once more for Maidenhead RFC.

He was given a guard of honour onto the pitch that day, and went on to become captain and the club’s all-time leading try scorer for the first team.

Nearly 20 years on it’s given him a great appreciation for the work of NHS doctors and nurses. They saved his life back then and they’re saving countless lives again now during the coronavirus pandemic. That’s why when a friend suggested over a video call he should do 40 sporting challenges for his 40th birthday, the Claires Court School teacher leapt at the chance to do it and raise money for the NHS in the process.

He said: “I've always felt forever indebted to these remarkable people. Basically they put me back together.

“There’s a great picture of my dad, grinning like a Cheshire cat, because he’s managed to walk me to my hospital door from the bed, which was probably a mighty two metres away.

“His and my mum’s strength of character, as well as that of the NHS, got me through.

“I want to thank them for the huge part they’ve played in my life. I was on death’s door with the doctors saying I wouldn’t live, or be able to use my legs and hands again. But the NHS got me back walking and playing for Maidenhead RFC and captaining the club.”

Simon has now completed just under half of his fundraising challenges. He’s due to finish by rowing the length of the English Channel on a static rowing machine. He’s already climbed the height of Mount Snowdon on his stairs at home, and he plans to complete the Three Peaks Challenge by summiting a virtual Scafell Pike and Ben Nevis before the month is out. Last weekend he ran a half marathon, finishing up at his ‘home away from home’ Maidenhead RFC’s Braywick Park. It’s a club that means so much to him.

“Seven months to the day of the accident I ran out for Maidenhead again,” he said. “The players gave me a guard of honour. I remember running out and no one else came out with me. The crowd was standing up clapping and I’m not embarrassed to say I had a tear running down my face. I knew then I’d never ever leave that club. Every day one of the boys from the club would come and see me in hospital. It resulted in me getting 260 odd caps and I’m still the record try scorer for the first team. I also ended up captaining them for my last four years. So yeah, it was a very emotional moment.

“Mentally it was hard putting your body back through the car crash that is rugby, but I love it. As soon as you run out onto the pitch you have to forget about any fears or anxieties.”

With his legs still burning from this weekend's half marathon, Simon has leapt into another week of challenges, fitting them in around his teaching and family life. Keeping with the theme of 40, he did 40 body weight exercises on Monday. He’s so far raised more than £1,700 for the NHS.

“The hardest challenges to date were climbing Mount Snowdon in my house,” he said. “That took me two and a half hours and it was absolutely horrendous. The half marathon was also tough. I’m built for sprinting not long distances. I’m still in pain from it and I’m dreading my next challenge.

“I’m going to walk 40km one day, and do a 40,000 step day. I plan to cycle from London to Brighton on a static bike, and I’ve got a massive one to end on. I don’t know if I can do it mentally.

“It’s rowing the Channel on a rowing machine which is 35,000 metres.

“I think I’ve been a bit naive with that one but I’m definitely going to do it. When you say you’re going to do something, you’ve got to haven’t you?

“I’ve got two young daughters, four and two, and my wife is out most of the week working for the NHS. So I’m trying to balance this with looking after them and my teaching. I’ve also signed up to be an NHS responder.

"I just want to look back in five years time and be able to tell my beautiful girls that this is what I did while mummy was helping. This is what daddy did to try and help. But I also want to help the NHS for everything they’ve done for me. I don’t want to look back in however many months, years, and think I haven’t done anything during this time.”

Visit Simon’s JustGiving page at - https://www.justgiving.com/fundraising/eatsleeprugby

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