Mountain rescue crew aims to conquer Waterside peak

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The countdown’s on for the Waterside Half Marathon and while most people are ramping up the mileage in preparation, one group of participants have already been stretch-ing themselves to the limit.

The North West Mountain Rescue Team will be carrying an emergency stretcher throughout the entire race – good news for any fellow competitors needing a lift.

Graeme Stanbridge has been a member of the 50-strong team for eight years.

“Basically our members are on call 24 hours a day to assist anyone lost or experiencing difficulty in remote, treacherous or mountainous conditions,” he said. “We operate as a charity so we have to maintain a profile in the public eye in order to generate funding, and sometimes we’re not great at really putting ourselves forward and highlighting the work we do.

“The Waterside Half Marathon seemed like the perfect event to show people what we’re about, and we’ve been talking for a while about taking on a challenge while carrying the stretcher. We’ve heard so much great feedback about the event and how relaxed and family friendly it is, so we thought we would give it a go.

“We’ll have a six person team taking part on the day and we’re just starting to practice with the stretcher which should be interesting. Fortunately the members are all at a good level of fitness and have all run before, so that should stand us in good stead.”

The team first started up in the Londonderry area in 1980 so it seemed like the best place to launch the new recruitment drive.

“It’s not just about call outs, we also have to deal with organisational issues such as fundraising,” Graeme explains. “Generally our members are interested in things like hill-walking or mountaineering, and are usually fairly fit, but we certainly don’t want to exclude anyone. All that’s absolutely required is a high level of commitment, as we need our team to be on call whenever and wherever they’re needed, and sometimes in some very challenging circumstances.

“The role can be quite physically demanding – we can be out in all conditions, in the dark, the rain, and high winds - but we have to maintain the high quality of our search at all times. You can be battling the elements with your hood down, and struggling with poor visibility so we need people to be able to maintain their concentration whatever the conditions.

“We deal with around 45 call outs a year at the request of the PSNI. As well as dealing with searches in mountainous, hostile and remote environments we also provide civil relief, for example during the very cold winters we experienced a couple of years ago. During this time we delivered food drops and medical supplies to people who were snowed in. We also administer first aid to climbers who have fallen, but mostly we do a lot of searching for people who are lost. We don’t have a lot of rugged mountains but we do have large tracts of upland area, such as around the Sperrins, and people get lost quite easily.

“It’s not a job that people should expect thanks for but the experience is certainly rewarding in itself. It’s something I really like about the team - they just get on with the job, and do an excellent job despite the challenges.”

The Rescue Team will join 2,000 runners taking on the challenge of the new half marathon course which leaves Ebrington Square on September 6th. Anyone thinking of joining them in their work can have a chat with members on the day.

“During the Half Marathon we’ll have some members of the team on hand to talk to people about what we do. If anyone is interested I would ask them to really think about it, and consider if they can offer the level of commitment required. But they should also think about the pride that comes from providing such a valuable service to the public.”

For more information on the North West Mountain Rescue Team and their work go to www.nwmrt.org. And if you would like to join the many people taking on the Waterside Half Marathon in aid of a good cause, there are still a few places left, with entries closing this Friday. Just go to www.whm15.com for more information and to register online