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Claires Court School teacher puts in the hard yards to complete 40-day challenge for the NHS

Daniel Darlington

Simon puts in the hard yards to complete 40-day challenge for the NHS

It was his wife, Cara, who gave former Maidenhead RFC captain Simon Cripps the final push he needed to finish his 40th birthday challenge of completing 40 physical activities in 40 days to raise money for the NHS.

Saturday's final challenge was undoubtedly the hardest, and the Claires Court School teacher admits he was a broken man as he carried his blistered feet towards home on the final kilometre of a 100k walking challenge that followed 39 days of punishment for his body and mind.

Cara is one of the main reasons Simon took on the challenge. She’s an NHS keyworker and has been doing her bit to save lives during lockdown while her husband has been juggling the responsibility of looking after their two girls and teaching online classes.

But there’s another reason for his extraordinary charity efforts over the past 40 days.

Twenty years ago he was badly burned while out celebrating a Maidenhead RFC win over Marlow RFC with friends. A grass skirt he was wearing for fancy dress was set alight and he was engulfed in flames. 

Simon wasn’t expected to survive through the night, but, after spending time on a life support machine and being told by doctors he might never walk again or be able to use his hands, he battled his way back to full health. Thanks to the help of NHS staff at Stoke Mandeville Hospital and the unstinting support of his parents, he defied those gloomy predictions, turning out once more for Maidenhead RFC just seven months later.

“I remember walking up Harvest Hill with about 1.2 kilometres to go and phoning my wife and saying ‘I don’t know if I can walk up the hill’,” he said.

“She told me to ‘get on with it, you’ve walked 99 kilometres and we want to welcome you home’.

“My wife has been absolutely incredible, I’ve never been so proud of anyone in my whole life. She’s an incredible woman anyway, but we’re all incredibly proud of her and it makes me emotional just to talk about it.

“It’s been tough trying to do this online teaching and parent at the same time, and she’s just been amazing.

“She’s been a rock and has been there for me to talk to through all this. There are really no words to say how amazing she’s been.”

Since his birthday he’s been taking on a physical challenge every day for 40 days. The Saturday before last he rowed the length of the English Channel on an ergo machine, supported by good friend, and Paralympic gold medal winner Tom Aggar. He’s also climbed each of the Three Peaks - Ben Nevis, Scafell Pike and Mount Snowdon  - on his stairs at home and has ran a half marathon, finishing up at his 'home from home' Maidenhead Rugby Club.

He said the support he’s received from family and friends, and the thousands of pounds he’s been raising for charity, helped carry his ailing body over the finish line on Saturday.

“It was emotional,” he said. “I got up at 2am on Saturday morning and set off with two of my best mates, Will Ballantyne and Simon Ball and we attempted to walk 100k. They left me at the 50k mark with horrendous blisters, but I knew I just had to carry on.

“There was a horrible moment when I was in Henley and suddenly on my own, walking and trying to fight the fears and emotions I had in my mind.

Whatever I was doing, whether it be climbing Ben Nevis at home or rowing the Channel, fighting those battles in your own mind was the toughest thing. Without my friends and family I’m not sure I would have finished, they were amazing at just getting me through when a huge part of me was thinking ‘I can’t do this’.

“The support I’ve received has been phenomenal.

“I finished at 8.55pm, so knocking on for 19 hours of solid walking.

He added: “Finishing the challenge was extremely odd if I’m honest. Because of the children, and because of what Cara does, we’ve followed strict guidelines on social distancing.

“My mum and dad, who have been incredible throughout my life, not just through this but everyday of my life they've been there to support me.

“We’re an incredibly affectionate family and not being able to give them a hug, and doing everything via facetime, it was an extremely emotional moment and I struggled with that.

“But just to come back in and get the greeting I got from Cara was incredible. To know I’d actually done this and completed it, it’s just a huge moment in my life and one I’m incredibly proud of.”

Simon has now raised more than £8,000 for charity and he’s contemplating how he can document this achievement and save it for posterity so his children can read about it when they’re older.

He also hopes the challenges will inspire others to overcome their fears and achieve something they never thought they’d be capable of doing.  It’s one of the reasons he swapped a career in recruitment for one in teaching, the belief  that he could make pupils realise they can achieve anything if they put their mind to it.

“I hope my girls will be proud of me. This is something I want to put down in front of them, when they can actually understand what we’ve achieved as a family during this time.

“I’ve written a couple of books and kept them to myself. I’ve written something for my family about the accident I had and this is definitely something I would love to add onto it.

“My key reason for getting into teaching was to inspire kids to know they can do whatever they want to do if they put their mind to it.

“And I’ve loved every single day of what I’ve done with teaching. But I also want to stand up in front of schools, offices, and inspire others with the story of my accident and how I came through that.

"I hope that when my pupils see me in 5/10/15/20 years time I’m that teacher who’s inspired them to go and do what they want to do, not necessarily what they’re supposed to do, whether that’s being a creator on Youtube or a landscape gardener.”

It seems Simon’s caught the bug for physical challenges but, for now,  they'll have to wait. 

“I said that challenge No41 was just to get out of bed on Sunday. But school and the girls come first now.  The pressure’s off.”

Click here Simon’s JustGiving page

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