Mongol Motivation

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The Yorkshire Yaks
Two years on from a record-breaking, life-saving operation, inspirational agricultural worker Adam Alderson, along with the rest of his Yorkshire Yaks team, is gearing up for a 15,000 mile journey across Europe to Mongolia and, eventually, Russia

As Adam Alderson approached the two-year anniversary of his successful, record-breaking surgery, he married his long-term partner Laura, who stood by him throughout his prolonged battle with cancer. ‘She slept on a pile of NHS towels next to my bed for months on end when she had her own little flat provided for her just 10 minutes away,’ Adam says. ‘You don’t forget things like that – she’s just amazing. I couldn’t have got through any of this without her, so one day I proposed, thankfully she said “Yes”, and we got married a year later.’

Adam is currently the youngest ever survivor of a multi-organ transplant designed to combat the rare form of cancer he was suffering from: Pseudomyxoma Peritonei. Before this operation, Adam became familiar with the story of Steve Prescott – the former England rugby player who was suffering from the same condition. ‘I was told Steve was a former England rugby player, had the same disease as me, was at the same stage and of a similar age,’ Adam says. ‘We were both very similar, but Steve was six years ahead and still fighting, so that gave me a little bit of hope.’

The two became close, exchanging emails before Steve’s condition worsened and, following an operation, he passed away. Adam asked for the same operation, and was told it would never be performed again, but refused to give up. ‘People that know me will tell you, I don’t let things go,’ he says. ‘I got on the internet and started looking for answers – we sent my scans to America, Switzerland, Belgium – all over the world. Everyone came back and said “No, nothing can be done.” Eventually, I appealed to a support group on Facebook called Pseudomyxoma Peritonei Survivor.’ 

The members of this group recommended Brendan Moran and his specialist team, who were based in Basingstoke. Brendan gave Adam some positive news. ‘Brendan told me that Steve had had an organ transplant with everything out, including the tumour, and back in,’ he says. ‘They said, contrary to what people were saying, Steve was fine. They’d got the cancer, Steve was functioning perfectly but, unfortunately, three weeks later, he developed graft-versus-host disease, which is a condition that can follow any transplant.’

With Adam’s consent, he was put forward for the operation and, after he had received care in various hospitals around the country and a donor had been found, it was performed. After an operation that involved 30 members of staff and took 17 hours, Adam awoke four days later in an intensive care unit, and Laura told him it had been a complete success.

During his difficult recovery, which took a further three and a half months, he came across the Mongol Rally on YouTube. Adam joked to Laura that one day, when he was better, the two of them would undertake the challenge, driving 15,000 miles across a number of countries, to reach Mongolia and, finally, Russia.

‘She just laughed at me and said “Yeah, of course we will,”’ Adam recalls. ‘At the time, I never thought it would happen, but I’ve gone on about it quite a bit since then, researched it, and now it is.

‘It’s not a race as such,’ he explains. ‘It’s more of an endurance thing. We’ll start unofficially from my hometown of Leyburn in North Yorkshire on 14 July at 11am. From there, we’ll travel down to the Goodwood Circuit in Chichester and meet about 300 teams. We all camp on the circuit that night then take off at the same time, one after the other to Dover and across to Calais. 

‘Once you get to Calais, you’re on your own,’ Adam continues. ‘There’s no set route, there’s no support, and there’s no direction from anyone – off you go: get to Mongolia, although it’s not like we’re going flat-out through the countries as fast as we can. It’s about having an experience, seeing the world, taking in culture and ultimately having an adventure. If things go wrong, part of that adventure is sorting them out. We won’t go down the motorways – as much as we can we’ve gone for the scenic route. It’s only about 8,000 miles if you go in a straight line, but we’re going to go the long way round.’

While it was originally planned that just Adam and Laura would undertake the Mongol Rally 2017, it has now been decided that some extra friends will go along with them in an extra car for added support – this team has been named The Yorkshire Yaks. While Adam’s recovery has gone well, he admits he sometimes has off-days, and that as a former cancer-sufferer undertaking a journey such as this is a little more high risk than it might be for others. 

‘If I did pick up an infection, some food poisoning, or, worst-case scenario, some rejection in the Gobi Desert in Mongolia, thousands of miles from anywhere, we could be in serious trouble,’ he explains. ‘We’ve taken as many precautions as we can to react to that situation if it happens through first aid training, phlebotomy training, and we’re going to carry our own anti-rejection saline and antibiotics.’

The entire Yorkshire Yaks has team has also had hostile environment training. The steps that Adam and his team have taken to prepare for this challenge underline just how seriously they’re all taking it, and how grateful Adam is to have been given the chance to do it. ‘The doctors have spent an awful lot of money on me,’ he says. ‘They don’t want it all to go to waste, but they are 100 percent behind me – there were a few worried looks in the room when I said I would do this, but now their attitude is “We’ve given you your life back, go out there and make us proud – live it, see the world.”

‘I’ve done a lot of travelling in my life, as has Laura,’ he continues. ‘I’ve lived in Australia, Germany and Switzerland, and we’ve done a lot together. Seeing the world is something that’s quite high on our list of things to do, and if we can do it and raise money for charity as well, that seems like a great way to do it.

‘It’s not been easy – I’ve planned every single left and right turn from here to Mongolia, but I set a target of £20,000 to raise for the two charities, and, thanks to corporate sponsors like Cello [a British electronics manufacturing company based in Bishop Auckland], we’ve managed to smash that.’

For more information on The Yorkshire Yaks’ Challenge or to help or donate, find the ground on Facebook or visit www.yorkshireyaks.co.uk

Published in: July 2017

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