YOU MAY RECALL the story of Nikki Bradley.
She’s a survivor of a rare form of cancer, known as Ewing’s Sarcoma. It’s afflicted her her entire adult life.
She is also someone who achieves incredible things.
Last time we spoke Nikki had just climbed Errigal, Donegal’s formidable mountain, in the first snow of the new year. On crutches. She told us she was next planning to traverse a glacier in Iceland for her awareness campaign Fighting Fit For Ewing’s (FFFE).
It had to happen quickly – Nikki may have to lose a leg to amputation later this year.
Well, it has happened quickly. She’s done it already. And the photos of her expedition are frankly awe-inspiring.
“Well I had a bit of a deadline myself,” Nikki tells TheJournal.ie.
I don’t know what the future is for my leg. I may not have it later this year. And I wouldn’t be able to do what I just did without two legs.
At three in the morning last Friday Nikki and her team of four set out for Iceland from Donegal.
Her team consisted of herself, Donegal Ice Road Trekkers’ Denis Ferry and Leslie O Donnell, acclaimed photographer/film maker Paul Doherty, and industrial climber Ian Parke.
They began their trek on the forbidding Solheimajokull glacier early the following morning after seemingly endless safety briefings. A glacier is not a challenge to be taken lightly it seems.
“You can’t confuse a glacier with a mountain. It’s not an achievable goal, like a summit, it’s something you experience,” she says.
You have guides telling you to follow their footsteps, like their actual footsteps, because the snow is so treacherous, it can just drop into nothing. That’s not an easy thing to do on crutches.
As well as the breathtaking pictures by photographer Doherty, the whole trip was filmed for a forthcoming documentary.
During Nikki and her four teammates’ trek they twice came across abseiling opportunities. The first involved a 45-foot ‘rock of ice’. Nikki felt like she hadn’t done herself justice in descending it:
“I just wasn’t fully able and I was so disappointed with myself, I just felt that my leg had let me down, which was really deflating. I have very high expectations of myself,” she says.
Not to worry, a short time later the team came across an ice cave. Most trekkers apparently don’t bring ropes and climbing equipment – Nikki and her team had. So naturally she jumped straight in.
“I wanted to make it up to myself. And it’s one of the most amazing things I’ve ever done or will ever do,” she said of the descent.
I used my leg all the way down, and my leg is obviously very damaged, so it was very painful. It was so much deeper than we thought, but once I was close to the bottom the fear went away and it was so much easier. And then I could appreciate my surroundings.
When I got to the bottom I knew I was somewhere where very few other people would ever be. There was a chandelier of icicles beside me, a frozen waterfall. It was just absolutely breathtaking.
Trekking the glacier wasn’t all the team did. Later that evening they visited the ruins of a crashed US navy plane, and came across a group of youngsters from New Zealand who had become trapped in the snows. So they rescued them.
“They were so cold and so badly stuck – it ended up being a rescue mission. We got them to nearby accommodation and then the next day we saved their car – the display of teamwork I saw was really heartwarming, it really was,” says Nikki.
Finally, the day they were due to fly home to Ireland, Nikki and her team climbed 7km up and down a mountain to have a bathe in the natural springs at the top. She wanted the weekend to be a no-holds barred event, no stopping until she and her team had wrung everything possible out of their three days.
“You get nothing easy in Iceland,” she says.
You earn what you get, but it is certainly worth it.
She says she can’t do justice to the natural beauty she saw on the trek. Looking at the photos you can see what she means. They’re otherworldly.
“And now we’re back to horrible old Ireland,” she laughs.
On her terms
There are many reasons for Nikki’s exploits.
“I’m hoping to raise a little money for childhood cancer. I’m hoping to inspire others,” she agrees.
But mostly, I don’t know what’s round the corner for me. Anything that comes my way I have to grasp it.
The same week that Nikki and her team left for Iceland she had a letter from her specialist in Birmingham, England. The problem with her leg hasn’t gone away, and the process has just kicked off again.
“Like I knew that letter was coming, and that the ball would continue to roll,” she says.
I knew my focus would have to shift and I’d have to start thinking of my health again.
But you see I just don’t know. My situation is unique, my consultant says I’m one of maybe 10 people worldwide experiencing this – I can’t just google it and find a solution.
Even if she does lose her leg, Nikki won’t stop.
“I’ll find a way, to live life on my terms, I’ll find a way,” she says.
But part of this experience is realising that I’m not a superwoman and that I do have limitations.
I couldn’t have done Iceland without two legs. A time will come when I can’t do what I can do now.
But I’m curious about my own abilities. I want to see what I can do.
If you’d like to know more about Fighting Fit For Ewing’s, or to get involved, you can email firstname.lastname@example.org for more information