I’ve had a busy 2016. In January last year I didn’t have a plan and couldn’t have dreamt where 2016 would have take me and the experiences I would have had, its been very rewarding. But it’s not been without its challenges and tears too, which some are now the most profound memories I have and greatest lessons I have learnt.
2015 finished with me completing my 4 1/2 month long, solo iron curtain expedition, my longest expedition to date and the expedition I gave up my full time job for. Upon returning there was a big void in my diary, leaving me feeling a little lost. So after a few weeks of working in my hospital again, in February I went to the place I love the most to find some inspiration, the arctic.
I was craving the sense of adventure, the spectacular views, the connection with nature and the excitement of meeting new, interesting people like I had on my iron curtain expedition, and I got all of that in Arctic Norway. I spent time with the indigenous Sami Reindeer herders, herding reindeers in the mountains and watched them racing down the high street in town. I had a lot of fun in the beautiful winter wonderland making new friends, under the spectacular northern lights.
In March I took on my Tudor run, a 200 mile run through the iconic locations of the Tudor monarchy’s history for schools to follow. I still don’t consider myself a runner, but, despite the storms and a chest infection mid run, I loved most of it and have kept up running for fitness.
I had the best birthday present ever in April being invited on a three week ski expedition to an abandoned Soviet mining town in Svalbard, only 1000 miles south of the north pole. This expedition forfilled a dream of mine to see Polar Bears in the wild after having spent my childhood watching Sir David Attenbrough talk about them on TV.
June saw my first trip away as a volunteer with Return to Normandy who escorted 13 Dday veterans back to Normandy for remembrance ceremonies. I can’t convey with worlds how much these brave granddads humbled and entertained me in equal measures. I shed tears of sadness with them but many more of laughter with their jokes, funny stories and late night, Calvados fuelled sing-a-longs.
I loved the magic of Svalbard so much I returned in July to kayak for three weeks in the icy fjords at 80 degrees north. I saw the beauty that lies beneath the snow, the remote old trappers cabins and kayaked with Whales swimming alongside me.
During September I had my first voluntary deployment with Team Rubicon UK to assist the community of Louisiana after devastating floors. I can honesty say I don’t think I have ever worked so hard in all my life! Ripping out heavy, water soaked walls, bathrooms, floors and kitchens in tyvex suits in temperatures of 98 degrees was tough, but with great people around me it was also so much fun and helped families get back into their homes.
In October I had a very stressful week in the lead up to my first TEDx talk. I was ill, working back in my hospital but managed to deliver my presentation a day before I deployed to Haiti which I will share with you all once published.
Seeing the devastation in Haiti after Hurricane Matthew, a country that was already struggling before the storm was humbling. However, I have never been so warmly welcomed with so many smiling faces from the locals who were keen to get stuck in and be a part of our team to help re build their communities and distribute vital food aid. This deployment showed me that there is no barrier to communication in a team with smiles and a common goal to get work done. I loved being surrounded by people who saw no problem they couldn't over come.
Just two weeks later in December I deployed again to Northern Greece to volunteer as a physiotherapist in a medical clinic at a Syrian refugee camp. The resilience and warmth of these kind people in such devastating adversity fleeing war, has probably been what has inspired me the most this year. I’ll never forget a 7 year old girl with cerebral Palsy who learned to walk with me whilst I was there.
Importantly to me, 2016 has proved that I can juggle the career I love in the NHS with voluntary humanitarian deployments and adventures. It is tough, and requires a lot of work and flexibility but I hope I can continue this.
Some of my best and most rewarding memories, moments of immeasurable pride or where I've laughed uncontrollably with tears streaming down my face have been when I've volunteered. I am far more proud of the smaller achievements made with fellow volunteers in collaboration with the locals on deployments than I am of any of my own achievements this year. My experiences have humbled me, I have been privileged to spend time with some incredibly brave, resilient and generous people of all ages and from all walks of live. With them, I’ve shed tears of sadness and frustration at the injustice and inequality of the world. I’ve been to some incredibly beautiful places whereby nature has made me feel so small in its greatness.
I’ve been reminded so many times of how lucky I am for my education, health, freedom and safety. I have also been inspired to give more. And I don’t mean just money through fundraising, I mean smiles, compassion, time and the skills I have that could benefit others. I’ve been overwhelmed by small acts of kindness by people who have nothing but will give you anything they can. From teams mates rationing their water with me when we were desperate and miles from any safe source in Haiti in temperatures topping 100 degrees, to Syrian refugees bring us delicious home cooked food.
Giving is far more satisfying than receiving and has meant far more to me than any personal achievements I've made this year. I'd swap all of my adventures this year for that week in Normandy or my time with the Syrian refugees.
Even our Queen stated in her christmas day speech “The cumulative impact of thousands of small act of goodness are we bigger than we imagine”. We can’t change the world, but we can all do things that mean a lot even to just one person.
Volunteering is something that will feature heavily in 2017 for me, from international deployments to more simple acts of giving, such as contributing to a bake sale or offering to help marshal a charity run or dog walking. I'd urge you to give up your time, step out of your comfort zone and volunteer, it will enrich your life more than you could ever imagine with the people you meet and you’ll remember the stories forever.
What's really exciting for me is that none of what I’ve done this year was planned in January, it really is incredible where one conversation, one introduction, one idea can take you if you put the work in. I’m very grateful to everyone I've worked alongside and to everyone who has supported me.
So that was 2016! My plans for 2017? My head feels like it going to explode with all the exciting ideas I have! But I promise you it includes more mountains, verrrrrry long walks, history based expeditions, more volunteering, lots of snow and a few reindeers. And I promise to blog all about it more.
It's fitting that my first trip of 2017 takes me back to Tromsø in arctic Norway with friends I met on my trip last year. I can't wait to see what 2017 brings, and I hope that you enjoy following my life and have an equally fufilling year and gain as much from giving back and your own adventures along the way as I have. Let me know your plans!