Eleven people, an ex-SAS major and a film crew set out on an almost impossible trek across rugged jungle. Andrew Robinson reports on a reality show with a difference.
ONE is a feisty former Cosmopolitan magazine Girl of the Year, another is a charming finance manager from Leeds and the rest are a mixed bunch of men and women from across Britain – and all 11 of them are physically disabled.
Between them, they were challenged to abseil, climb and sail their way across 220 miles of swamps, lakes, desert and jungle, pushing and pulling two wheelchair users up and down muddy ravines and even a 5,000ft volcano.
The 28-day expedition across Nicaragua has been filmed for new BBC2 series Beyond Boundaries, an antidote to the celeb-driven reality shows.
Among its 'stars' is former Cosmo award-winner Sophie Morgan, 19, from Lewes, a wheelchair user who broke her back last year when she lost control of her car.
One of the impromptu wheelchair pushers, Amar Latif, a finance manager from Kirkstall in Leeds, has been blind since his late teens.
Amar, 30, describes the 28 days as the hardest challenge of his life and not at all stage-managed for the cameras.
"It was very difficult in 40 degree heat pushing the wheelchairs over logs and bogs – it was a nightmare," he said.
"There was a time when my self- assurance wore rather thin but I learned to push to new levels of exertion."
Despite having only five per cent of his vision, Amar learned to knot ropes to ensure the wheelchair users could be safely pulled up and down slopes. He also learned to swing a machete with confidence, although the others were not so sure.
The biggest challenge for him was the 5,000ft volcano climb. Not everyone completed it, but Amar won't reveal how many dropped out.
Now safely back in Leeds, he is planning his next trips – to California, Andalucia, Morocco, and South Africa, which he is organising for Traveleyes, the firm he set up earlier this year to give blind people the chance for a proper
Other travel companies he believed charged blind people too much and had a patronising attitude, so he set up his own firm, which pairs up blind and sighted travellers on a one-to-one basis.
Another Leeds man, outdoor enthusiast Karl Sacks, 43, of Alwoodley, found the Nicaraguan trek a real challenge – and he knows what he's talking about.
His leg was amputated below the knee following an accident while diving in South Africa in 1995, when his legs were pulled into a boat's propeller.
Now, much of his time is taken up with charity work and gruelling challenges, including long distance cycling, sea swimming and extreme canoeing of grade five rapids.
"It was probably one of the hardest things I have ever done," he admitted.
"The high point was getting to the top of the volcano – I said I would make it up even if it killed me."
He says that "only death is an excuse" for failure. Back home, the father-of-three daughters
does work for manufacturers
of prosthetic legs, testing their products up to and beyond their limits.
"People ask me to test their products because I have a terrible reputation for breaking everything! On one part of the trek my
horse's legs gave up so I had to get off and pull it myself. I wasn't about to give up because of an old nag."
His next big test may come in 2007 during a 350-mile polar race. He needs to raise 30,000 in sponsorship to take part.
The expedition leader, ex-SAS Major Ken Hames, suffered dysentery during the challenge and some did not make it to the end.
The other team members were: Glen Kirk, who lost a leg in the British Superbike Championships in 2002; Jane Atkinson, a doctor, who had both feet amputated as a baby; Lorraine Pooley, 34, a mother-of-two who lost
her leg when she was hit by a motorbike; Charlie Fennel, 30, an actor who is profoundly deaf; Daryl Beeton, a theatre director with restricted mobility in his legs; Warren Wolstencroft, a 30-year former soldier who losthis hand to cancer; AdeAdepitan, a wheelchairbasketball player and TV presenter; and Toby Farrar, who lost an arm when he suffered an electric shock.
The four-part series Beyond Boundaries starts tonight at 9pm on BBC2.