It was when Steve Plain was lying in a hospital bed with a broken neck after being thrown around Cottesloe beach in Western Australia on that fateful day in 2014 that the idea for Project 7in4 was born.
Steve spoke to Sydney Observer having recently returned from the summit of Kilimanjaro and on the eve of his fifth climb to the summit of Elbrus in Europe. Steve spoke about the project and overcoming insurmountable obstacles to ultimately give back to those who helped him during a dark time.
“For me, I was just very determined to achieve what I wanted to do, I think the time in hospital and the feeling of being so helpless and so vulnerable, I just really hated that. So that gave me an added drive to try and get back to the health and fitness that I was after,” Steve explains.
Only 11 months after his injury, Steve was doing a practice climb on Mount Aspiring in New Zealand, and with a long history of being an active adventure lover and fitness fanatic meant the drive to overcome was always there.
The insurmountable task of summiting seven mountains in a period of four months would seem an impossible task for many of us. For Steve however, planning one step at-a-time and simply taking life day-by-day is an important part of maintaining such dedication.
“I initially wasn’t planning on doing it in the four months, but then I started planning, and got into the training and the time from which I was targeting just got lower and lower. So I thought I might as well have a go at the record as well.
“Initially, even from the days in the hospital, it was always ‘okay, focus on initial rehab, and then getting back into training, and then the first climb,’ and then I really just focus climb by climb,” Steve explains.
“It’s probably only been the last six months of last year that I started really focussing on preparing and planning for the seven summits project,” Steve adds.
Despite the immense physical and mental strength required for such a logistical task, the ultimate goal of this endeavour is to give back to a number of charities that have had an enormous impact on Steve’s worldview following his accident.
It was the work of two Surf Life Savers that happened to be on duty on that day in 2014 that Steve can thank today for his recovery.
“We tend to take for granted how great the beaches are in Australia, and there’s a lot of volunteer work behind that to keep it safe, so I’m trying to raise awareness and funds for Surf Life Saving WA.”
It was also a period of time that saw a mental dawning of the significant lack of funding for research into spinal injuries and subsequent cures in Australia.
“I was incredibly lucky that the damage to my spinal cord did actually heal by itself to the point that I was able to regain full mobility.
“And for a lot of people with paralysis, they’re not so lucky, and it’s at that point that I came across SpinalCure Australia, who are funding research into a cure for paralysis, with an aim of having people up out of wheelchairs by next year,” says Steve.
On the eve of Everest, the highest summit elevated at 8848m, Steve is both excited and nervous for such a feat. However, having done a practice run on Lohtse, which shares a base with Everest just last year, Steve still manages to take it all in stride.
“[Lohtse] actually uses Everest’s base camp and shares 80 per cent of the root of Everest, so when I was climbing that last year I was actually climbing with the Everest climbers and when they went up the root, Lohtse turns right, and Everest turns left.
“Last year I turned right, this year I’ll turn left,” Steve muses.
At the present, Steve is facing the daunting task of summiting two mountains in Europe and North America during the peak of Winter.
“There’s really no way to prepare for it, but just to get there and suffer,” Steve laughs.
“We’ve allowed a lot more time in the schedule compared to what you’d normally be doing in a normal climbing season, so we can account for bad weather.”
Steve’s involvement in Project 7in4 has been largely community-focussed, with beginnings in the climbing community through connections forged by equipment needs, and an increasingly present online following that got the word out to bigger audiences in Sydney.
“There’s a lot of interest around what we’re doing, and it’s nice to be able to share and hear other people’s stories who have gone through similar things.”
Follow Steve’s journey to Everest and learn more about the fundraising work with Turramurra Rotary, Surf Life Saving WA and SpinalCure Australia at project7in4.com.