Seven Kiwis with sight loss, seven days, 700km to travel and a host of epic physical tasks were the ingredients for a unique and inspiring challenge.
For the first time in October, the 7 Day Challenge took place as part of Blind Week. It proved to be an unforgettable experience.
Blair Gilbert, Blind Foundation National Manager Community, Recreation and Volunteer Services, came up with the idea for the event.
“I said to my mate, ‘Let’s do a 7 Day Challenge – let’s climb some mountains, paddle some rivers and run some hills. I want to show New Zealanders that people who are blind or have low vision can do anything they set their mind to. I know so many strong, inspirational clients with the Blind Foundation – I’m going to see if they will do it with me’.”
Blind Foundation clients Ben Geddes, Hamish Tahana, Jo Froggatt, Neelusha Memon, Peter Jones, Petronella Spicer and Shannon Cleave signed up to tackle the inaugural challenge.
The team began its quest in Tauranga and made its way to Wellington.
The participants were quickly immersed in the adventure, spending the first day white water rafting on the Kaituna River.
That included a massive drop down a seven metre-high waterfall, which is considered one of the world’s highest commercially-rafted waterfalls.
“That was a real adrenaline rush,” says Jo. “I enjoyed the water activities the most.”
From there, they did a marathon relay from Tauranga to Rotorua and paddled a waka across Lake Rotorua. Once on the shore, they were welcomed with a kapa haka performance before staying at Tunohopu Marae.
Day three involved tandem cycling the Taupo Flyer route to Taupo and they barely had time to rest their legs before climbing Mt Tongariro the next day.
For Peter, climbing the mountain and eating lunch on the edge of the summit crater made it his favourite day.
“It was a magic moment for me.”
After the heights of the Tongariro summit, the challengers spent a day jet boating up the Whanganui River. After visiting the Tieke Marae, the crew canoed back down the river.
On the penultimate day of the adventure, they hiked down the Kapiti Coast.
The challenges of the final day were kept secret from the participants. They had to complete them in an Amazing Race style. New instructions texted to them at each location.
They made their way to the Paekakariki train station and travelled into Wellington. Their finale was to climb Mt Victoria and dragon boat from Oriental Bay.
The 7 Day Challenge ended with a celebration and medal ceremony.
“I was stoked with my sub-20-minute sprint to the top of Mt Victoria,” says Neelusha.
Paralympic gold medalist Mary Fisher was a surprise guest at the event.
For their last surprise, the challengers were taken to the airport in hot rods by members of the Capital Rodders hot rod club.
Jo’s advice to others is to grab such opportunities with both hands, even if they have doubts about their abilities.
“Just get up off the couch and get out there. There’s absolutely nothing like the feeling of achievement when you have given your all.”