World experiences

Barrie Howes in Peru

From Cuba to Kilimanjaro: travellers' tales from our overseas challenges

For the past 20 years, BHF fundraisers have braved some of the world’s toughest physical challenges. Lisa Kjellsson maps their adventures.

There are those who will stop at nothing in their efforts to raise funds for us, and will – if not move mountains – certainly climb them. From scaling Mount Everest and Kilimanjaro to crossing deserts, rafting down rivers and trekking through jungles, in the past 20 years fundraisers have raised more than £10 million for BHF research through our World Experiences programme.

The programme of challenges launched in 1994, and since then more than 3,000 adventurous supporters have taken on overseas challenges in more than 90 destinations from Iceland to India.

Participants have ranged in age from 18 to 70, with the oldest being a determined climber who beat the rest of his group to the Everest Base Camp. “Our fundraisers are all so inspiring,” says Kate Favell, World Experiences Project Manager. “Some of them work full time and yet they commit nearly all their free time to raising funds and acting as ambassadors for us while training for the challenge.”

To celebrate the 20th anniversary of the programme, we’ve launched two new challenges this year: a Kenya Rift Valley bike ride and a Dalai Lama trek in the Himalayas. “We hope to continue taking our supporters on a host of memorable adventures and raising much-needed funds for our research,” says Kate.

Experience of a lifetime

It's an opportunity to make the most of the second chance in life I've been given.

One long-standing BHF supporter who has completed three overseas challenges so far is Barrie Howes, 51, an engineering instructor from Higham, Kent. Barrie had surgery on his aorta (the largest artery in the body) in 2006. Two years later, he was well enough to trek to Peru’s Inca site, Machu Picchu, followed by Everest Base Camp in 2012 and the Sahara Desert in February this year. “I had been monitored for years as I have Marfan syndrome [a disorder that affects the body’s connective tissue] and was told I couldn’t go mountain climbing because of the high altitude,” he says. “So when I was given the go-ahead a year after the operation, I couldn’t have been more excited.”

For the Machu Picchu trek, Barrie set himself a fundraising target of £4,000, which was the minimum required, but ended up raising more than £5,000 by organising a series of local events, including a dinner with a raffle at his village pub. He describes the trek as one of the best experiences of his life. “I think it’s important to take time out of our busy lives and do something like this,” he says. “You meet people from all walks of life, which is good, and there are also times when you are just walking alone with your thoughts. I knew straight away I’d want to take on other challenges in the future.”

Reaching Everest Base Camp four years later was “fantastic”, he says. “I was choked, absolutely exhilarated. I thought of all the people who had supported me. It also brought it home to me how lucky I was that I was able to take part in this.”Barrie’s father passed away aged 28, when Barrie was a 10-month-old baby, due to unexplained heart problems, so raising money for the BHF means a lot to him. “It’s an opportunity to make the most of the second chance in life I’ve been given,”he explains. “The health benefits of taking part are enormous; it increases my stamina, helps me manage my weight and blood pressure and makes me eat more healthily.”

Susan Horwood

In memory

Susan Horwood, 44, a business owner from Aberystwyth, west Wales, is doing the Kilimanjaro trek this September to commemorate the 10th anniversary of her husband Mark’s death.

Mark passed away due to sudden arrhythmic death syndrome aged 38. He was otherwise fit and healthy, and had never smoked. The family had just returned from a holiday in Australia when Mark died in his sleep. Left to care for their two little boys, who at the time were three and five, Susan says she got through the aftermath with support from friends and family, and her local British Heart Foundation.

Now she wants to make her sons, Jac and Harri, proud by taking on a challenge Mark always wanted to do. Taking part in the World Experiences programme is also a way of giving back and helping others.

“If the money I raise helps save lives, that would be wonderful,” she says. As part of her fundraising, Susan organised a pamper night where local beauticians offered a range of treatments, and a charity ball with the local emergency services. She also has a charity golf day and a football match coming up.

Together with the two friends she is planning to trek with, she has raised £8,000 so far. “People are so generous,” says Susan, “and I’ve always tried to involve people and make them feel that they are getting something out of it; I don’t just want to ask people for money.”

Susan is nervous and excited about the challenge. “I do a lot of coastal trekking here in Wales, but I’ve never climbed a big mountain like Kilimanjaro before,” she says. “As it’s getting closer I’m getting a bit more nervous about altitude sickness, because you can’t prepare for that.”

She has spoken to people who have climbed Kilimanjaro and heard it described as a life-changing experience. She thinks it will be for her, too. “I think it will be an emotional challenge as well, because it’s in Mark’s memory.”

Want to do something closer to home? We have a series of UK treks, bike rides and other events you could take part in. Have a look at our events calendar or call 0845 130 8663 to order a copy of the calendar with all the details on our upcoming events.

See the interactive timeline about our World experiences

Read how to get involved