Inspiring Adventurers #6 Carolyn Willow Smith

11th Jul 2015

We’ve had some brilliant Inspiring Adventurers in our series so far.  From record breaking pilots like Judy Leden right through to cutting edge explorers like Alastair Humphreys and intrepid mountaineers like Nigel Vardy, Jeff Stone and Alex Staniforth.  Hopefully their sage advice has already guided a few readers on their own adventure journey.
The sixth adventurer in our series is not a pilot or high altitude mountaineer (although I’m sure she’d jump at the chance if it arose) and her adventures tend to be closer to home - but she’s a completely inspiring adventurer and she has an amazing journey to share.  Peak Mountaineering’s Inspiring Adventurer #6 is Carolyn Willow Smith and we actually became aware of her amazing journey through social media.  We immediately knew she should be included in our series.  We didn’t really feel confident to write an intro for Carolyn and so she kindly agreed to share her story in her own words before answering our usual 5 questions…..
Like any outdoor person I love the freedom of walking although I’ve only really been into walking for the past three to four years.  I actually used to work on race cars and spent all my time at a racetrack or drag strip or in a garage tinkering about with engines.  It was in 2008 when everything changed in seconds.
I was a passenger in a car that crashed and, to cut a long story short, I broke my spine and badly damaged my hips. I spent a year trying to build myself up to walk and yet I still couldn't do a full mile unaided. In 2010 it all got too much and I had a mental break down caused by post traumatic stress disorder.  I was hospitalised in a mental health unit for a month and, as challenging as this period was, it actually became my pivot point.
It took about a year or so to get on track and in 2012 I decided I wanted to climb a mountain and I chose snowdon for September 2013.  A childhood dream.  I just managed snowdon after building myself up from one mile to 13 miles and it took 11 hours to complete. I was hooked and booked days in the Peak District to continue my adventures.  I set a new challenge of ascending Scafell Pike in 2014.  
I continued training but then in January 2014 received another massive setback.  I was diagnosed with a rare and life threatening condition called Vascular Ehlers Danlos Syndrome.  There are several types of Ehlers Danlos Syndrome and the vascular type is the most serious.  There is no cure for this illness and sufferers will die from it.  The main problem is spontaneous rupture of medium to large arteries which can occur at any age from mid-adolescence to late adult life.  
Anyway, back to training.  I fell in love with the Peak District and it has become my second home. I visit most weeks despite a 6 hour round trip from Skegness. I did complete my Scafell Pike ascent but sustained a ankle injury involving some burst foot veins and fractured bones in my foot.  It took me seven hours just to get down under my own steam .  For 2105 my plan was to complete Ben Nevis and I finally managed it on the 13th June.  The national three peaks is under my belt  I'm still trying to come to terms with completing these milestones and so I’m not, as yet, sure where I'm heading next.
The main mountains I do for charity.  I've done some for the road safety charity Brake and now I'm doing them for Annabelle's Challenge with Vascular Ehlers Danlos Syndrome.  Annabelle is a 6 year old girl with the same condition as me . So thats me I guess - from a  party loving car nut to a gentle hiker slowing down the pace……but always on the go 
Which destination would be your top recommendation for someone looking for an adventure?
I don't have a certain place or area but I would actually highly recommend your own county.  We are forever trying to find ways to escape where we live but somewhere on your own doorstep can lead to the best adventures.  I live in Lincolnshire and train a lot in the Peak District but some of my best days have been walking around the Lincolnshire Wolds.  So try your local area because you just never know what you may find. 
Which destination is at the top of your future adventures?
This is a tough one as I always want to say some massive mountain like Everest or Killimanjaro or a trek across Antarctic, but I'm going to be realistic and have to say the Harz mountains in Germany.  I'm not allowed to fly for long and I've spent a lot of time in Germany over the past 8 years.  I love the people, the food and the countryside.  I want to summit the Brocken as 6 years ago I attempted it a year after breaking my spine and only managed a few miles before having to turn back. 
Can you name someone who has inspired you to lead a life of adventure?
A nurse back in 2010 inspired me to go on adventures. I was on a mental health unit after attempting to take my own life (due to the life changing injuries from 2008 and also PTSD). One night I couldn't sleep and I sat at the nurses station chatting to the nurse on duty.  He told me he used to be in the forces and that he had lost a good friend due to suffering from PTSD and how it affected him.  He also told me his eyesight was failing and he would most likely end up blind.  Not once did he say why me or moan.  He also told me of all the different stuff he has done and ever since that conversation I've been inspired to go and see and do new things. 
Which item wouldn't you leave home without?
This is going to sound silly but I have to say it’s my Hector hiking bear.  My mum knitted it for me and he even has his own boots and backpack.  I will never be lonely on a adventure again.  Hector has recently been on his own travels though as my friend took him up Killimanjaro for me so I've had a replacement bear but Hector is with me normally. 
I also cannot leave the house without my medic alert because one day maybe it will save my life if I get into trouble in the hills. 
What would be your top tip for budding adventurers?
My top tip would be smile at the strangers you pass because you never know how much that smile could change their life.  Also, make sure you put a spare change of clothes in the car for those adventures that get a bit dirty and wet.  I really learnt my lesson after getting stuck in a peat bog then having to drive three hours home smelling rather unpleasant and feeling very damp.
A huge thanks to Carolyn for sharing her amazing story. You can learn more about the charities Brake here and Annabelle's Challenge here.  Our next Inspiring Adventurer is coming soon.
Posted by Cal