Heroic Banbury footballer battles cerebral palsy and altitude sickness to climb Kilimanjaro

A heroic Banbury footballer battled against his cerebral palsy condition and altitude sickness to climb Mount Kilimanjaro and raise money for charity.
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But on the way down after summiting, England and Banbury cerebral palsy football star Harry Baker had to be airlifted off the mountain after falling ill, due to the altitude.

However, he still managed to raise thousands of pounds for Chipping Norton-based charity Rafiki Thabo, which aims to provide young people with opportunities for education in Kenya, Uganda, and Lesotho by providing scholarships, meals, and equipment.

The 28-year-old, who is a patron of the charity, is a left-sided hemiplegic and understands the importance of providing children with education after his own experiences at school, which guided him towards sport and helped him gain confidence through football.

Banbury footballing star Harry Baker and the team at the Rafiki Thabo Foundation have raised almost £30,000 for schoolchildren in Africa with their climb of Mount Kilimanjaro.Banbury footballing star Harry Baker and the team at the Rafiki Thabo Foundation have raised almost £30,000 for schoolchildren in Africa with their climb of Mount Kilimanjaro.
Banbury footballing star Harry Baker and the team at the Rafiki Thabo Foundation have raised almost £30,000 for schoolchildren in Africa with their climb of Mount Kilimanjaro.

Speaking about the five-day expedition, where Harry and the team scaled the 5,895-metre-high mountain, he said: "It was amazing, an incredible experience, and really tough; a number of people succumbed to altitude sickness early on.

"It was a lot tougher than I expected, but the people I was with made the journey really enjoyable. There were lots of highs and lows, but we made it to the top, which was just incredible."

But after reaching the top and just starting the descent, Harry was unfortunately heavily affected by altitude sickness and was forced to be airlifted from the mountain.

He said: "I felt dizzy, nauseated, and had a bad headache. I was stumbling all over the shop, and at first I thought it was my cerebral palsy playing up, but it became clear it was something else.

Sunrise at Gilman's Point on of the three official summits of Mount Kilimanjaro.Sunrise at Gilman's Point on of the three official summits of Mount Kilimanjaro.
Sunrise at Gilman's Point on of the three official summits of Mount Kilimanjaro.

"I felt like I was drunk, so the decision was made to evacuate me off the mountain. I then had to walk another 4,000 metres to the helipad, which was a very gruelling four-hour walk. It was probably the toughest thing I’ve done in my life."

Although Harry lives an active lifestyle and doesn’t let his condition slow him down, the previous highest mountain the Banbury man had climbed was Snowdon, and this challenge eclipsed that in terms of exhaustion and effort.

He said: "I wasn’t sure how my cerebral palsy would affect me on the climb as I’m usually playing football on flat pitches, and there were no issues climbing Snowdon, so I felt well prepared physically.

"However, there were times when we were climbing what looked like sand dunes and my feet kept slipping in the sand, making it very hard to maintain momentum and making it extremely tiring.

"Reaching the summit was probably the hardest but most rewarding thing I have done in my life, and to raise that money for such a good cause is incredible.

"To see firsthand the work that is being done and the amazing individuals being helped is just fantastic and very touching."

For Harry, who works in education, supporting the charity and ensuring thousands of children’s lives would be changed through education was all the motivation he needed to reach the top.

The group’s expedition has raised £29,500 so far for Rafiki Thabo, providing over 87 years of secondary schooling. Harry’s JustGiving page is still online and accepting donations.

To support Harry’s fundraiser, visit justgiving.com/page/harrybaker