Alex Staniforth - Cheshire's intrepid adventurer
PUBLISHED: 00:00 14 September 2017
Jonathan Davies Photographic
A young adventurer from Kelsall has overcome the odds to complete a remarkable challenge, writes Paul Mackenzie
As a schoolboy, Alex Staniforth could not have imagined the heights he would hit. Because of his stammer, there were times when he would hide in the school toilets to avoid speaking in class. He was bullied and struggled with eating disorders, anxiety, low self-esteem and depression.
Now 22, he is an accomplished public speaker who has twice attempted to scale Everest, has written one book and is about to start work on a second, and has recently completed a gruelling physical and mental challenge.
Alex is now resting back at home in Kelsall after scaling the highest peak in each of the 100 counties around the UK, covering more than 5,000 miles on bike and on foot.
‘I found the outdoors when I was about 14 and it became my escape,’ he said. ‘I stammered and was bullied which led to mental illness and low self confidence. School was pretty difficult for me. I manage my stammer with therapy and techniques but it was crippling. I would hide in the toilets to avoid speaking in class. I couldn’t say my own name and it made social interaction very difficult. I felt very bad about myself. I was bullied physically and verbally.
‘Everest became the ultimate way to fight back. It gave me back my drive to achieve and to prove the bullies wrong. Being outdoors seemed to be where I belonged, nothing else gave me the same sense of achievement.
‘Having a passion and a purpose in life meant more to me than fitting in and being accepted. It was important for me to have something to strive for. Everest had been a driver for me, giving me a way to inspire people and raise money. When I finished Climb the UK, it felt like the Everest summit day I never had.’
His two Everest attempts were thwarted by avalanches, the second of which in 2015 killed three of his colleagues – a tragedy he recounted in his book Icefall.
The 72 day schedule for his Climb the UK challenge began and ended close to home, with his first climb being Shining Tor and the final summit, two and a half months later, Moel Famau in North Wales. Along the way Alex spoke in schools about his mental health issues and the importance of speaking out.
‘The children are excited by Everest but it’s all more than that. I go quite deeply into my personal struggles,’ he added. ‘I wanted to use my story to inspire people. We all have our own Everests. It doesn’t matter what challenges you face but how you overcome them.
‘I was doing 18 hour days and at the point of sobbing to myself on a mountain and on some days I was looking for an excuse to take a day off. It would have been so easy to throw the towel in and give up. If mental illness was a sign of being weak I wouldn’t have had the strength to carry on. I am very much the same person I have always been but more resilient.’
The former pupil of Kelsall Primary School and Tarporley High School raised more than £20,000 for the Young Minds UK mental health charity.
But the young adventurer won’t be resting on his laurels – he’s already determined to raise more money and more awareness. ‘There’s definitely more to come but not yet. I’m hoping to bask in the glory of this before I start planning anything else. I am starting work on my second book to tell the story of the 72 days around the UK.
‘Mental illness is the hardest thing I’ve ever had to deal with – far more difficult than climbing Everest. My big message is that if you’re suffering from mental health issues, speak out, tell someone you trust, visit the Young Minds website and seek help – it’s not a sign of weakness. Talking about it is a sign of strength.’