Playing a peaky blinder in memory of my sister

Raised in Southsea, Josh Harris has always been an adrenaline junkie. And six years ago, after the heart-breaking loss of his sister to mental health, he had a strong sentiment to raise money for the cause closest to his heart.

By Hollie Busby
Wednesday, 20th October 2021, 10:25 am
Updated Wednesday, 20th October 2021, 10:25 am
Josh Harris, with his band of brothers from Portsmouth, who completed the three peaks challenge in August in memory of Josh's sister, Nicola. Picture: Courtesy of Josh Harris
Josh Harris, with his band of brothers from Portsmouth, who completed the three peaks challenge in August in memory of Josh's sister, Nicola. Picture: Courtesy of Josh Harris

From plummeting 15,000 feet from a plane for a charity skydive, to his more recent feat of scaling Britain’s three highest peaks in just 24 hours, the 29-year-old has never shied away from the dangerous - and in some cases deadly.

On a training session while scaling Snowdon and Scafell Pike in May, stood among his team of old college friends gazing up to see the clearing of Mount Snowdon's summit, strong winds threatened his and his teammates lives.

But it was at that precise moment, Josh knew he could not give up. He persisted with training to raise money for a life-saving cause, with his late sister being the motivation for success.

Josh Harris with his late sister, Nicola Wallace. Picture: Courtesy of Josh Harris.

Not only did he want to do something momentous in memory of his sister, Nicola Wallace, who died as a result of her mental health problems when Josh was 23, but he wanted to support the incredible work of Solent Mind to support those facing the same dark and depressive episodes as sister, Nicola, who died aged 39 in 2015.

The National Three Peaks Challenge, climbing Ben Nevis first, then Scafell Pike in the Lake District and finally, Snowdon, meant he could make a difference to other people’s lives.

He says: ‘For the warm-up the conditions were really bad. We were facing 80 mph winds at the top of Snowdon It was just ridiculous.

Josh Harris, from Portsmouth, fundraising with his team near Ben Nevis. Picture: Courtesy of Josh Harris.

‘At one point I could see the top, but I just said to the boys let’s turn back, this is not worth our lives. I 100 per cent felt our lives were at risk. It was very dangerous to be in those conditions.’

Luckily for Josh and his band of hiking brothers, Jake Ashton, Muhamed Avdic, Marley Brindley and Laurence Harris, their impressive feat on August 18 and 19 this year saw clearer and easier hiking conditions.

And despite problems with his back and knees, Josh says ‘there is no way I was going to come out of that challenge not completing it’.

Remembering his sister from childhood and his early 20s he recalls:

‘Nicola was a lot of fun.

But she struggled for the majority of her life with mental health problems.

‘She was on a lot of heavy medication over the years and when we first heard that she’d passed away, initially, because there had been a few scares before we thought she might have overdosed.

‘But her death was a result of what they call a cocktail of so much heavy medication and the doctors not keeping a proper eye on things.

‘We've lost an absolutely amazing person and it's a difficult thing to lose someone like my sister, especially the impact it has had on my mum.

‘No one should ever have to put their own daughter or son to rest.

‘The hike was very tight in the end. But I powered on. I think I had such a determination to do it that I worried about the pain and aches afterwards.’

It wasn’t just the immense physical preparation for a challenge as momentous as the Three Peaks, it was also about controlling the mind, and making sure the whole team were well equipped.

The team were too late in arranging efficient transport for the challenge and ended up with a minibus with a maximum speed of 62 mph.

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Josh says: ‘We didn’t have any designated drivers, which people normally have when they do the challenge so that put added pressure on me.

‘I hadn’t driven in eight years but I had the motivation to get behind the wheel and do it.

‘A couple of the drives are around the six-hour mark. Between each mountain you're talking a minimum of five hours between each one.’

‘I think there is a lot of mental preparation to it. I don't think any of us were big hikers so we all needed to train for it and hit the gym a lot more and a few climbs like Butser Hill.

‘I remember we climbed Ben Nevis very quickly and a lot faster than the average time. We would have never completed the challenge if we hadn't smashed out the mountains as fast as we did.

‘I was in tears at the bottom as there were moments when I wasn't sure if we were going to do it.

‘There's no words for the feeling of completing the challenge and for the reasons that I did it.’

Josh and his friends completed the challenge in 23 hours and 40 minutes having started at 4.41pm the previous day.

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