Ben Hooper14th July 2015

Ben was born in London, United Kingdom, and as a child moved within the UK and EU with his family and the British Army. As an adult Ben has served with the military, police and worked within mental health and Psychology. In his spare time, he writes fiction and is a 2* AIDA freediver and Open Water PADI scuba diver. His love of open water and swimming, is second only to being a father.

However, Ben’s inspirational story of surviving premature birth, collapsed lungs and death in ICU at birth, is highlighted further by his drowning at five-years of age in a swimming pool in Belgium, which only served to enthuse him and drive on his love of water and the sea. Swimming seemed a positive thing and during his teen years, Ben took part in a few long distance swims for charity and recreationally trained in the pool, with running and golf being his other passions. Yet as adulthood dawned, he moved to training for distance swimming, middle distance running and eventually, a period of triathlon amateur competition. Later, whilst living in Fuerteventura, he turned his focus to spending more time in the swimming pool and sea for freediving, scuba and long distance swimming but Ben remained a regular guy with a love of the open water and held his extraordinary dream close until now.

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Alex Flynn26th May 2015

Since June 2008, I have thought and questioned who I am, where I am going and what I really want out of my life. To tell you the truth, I am still undecided on quite a lot of it. However, as far as Parkinson’s disease is concerned, I am determined to make change happen.

It all started with a coffee cup in 2008. I was training for the Marathon Des Sables the following year (2009) and fit as a fiddle. As per usual, the particular morning in question involved the same routine…which was, arrive at work, porridge with honey and black coffee. Except that changed when I went to pick up my coffee cup. My hand, ever so slightly, shook. I watched the tremor and decided that I must be overdoing it (as is typical…ask anyone of my friends).

No matter what I did, each day the tremor in my right hand would return. So finally, I put pride aside and sought help. After being passed from one specialist to another, I was faced with a rather grim diagnosis. I was told that I had Idiopathic Parkinson’s disease. That means “Parkinson’s Disease of unknown origin”.

What’s it like to be told that you have a, presently incurable, chronic, degenerative neurological disease? Well, it certainly knocked me for six! I was angry at first, and then in denial for a long time. It was only when I got to the Sahara, that I got time think and accept that if this is it, then I am going to do my utmost to raise funding to find a cure.

Why? Over 120,000 people have Parkinson’s in the UK, with 10,000 diagnosed each year. There are millions of people with this horrific, debilitating, neurological condition worldwide, and there is currently no cure.

This is a disease that robs the sufferer of the ability to move, imprisoning them in their own body; effectively preventing them from enjoying the things that most take for granted. What’s more, people ignore Parkinson’s as they believe that it only affects the old. The truth is, it affects all; from teenagers to the elderly. I know. I am case in point. I have young onset Parkinson’s.

I am sure that, within my lifetime, we will find a cure, which will change the lives of millions around the world. So while I am able, I am going to run, walk, climb and do anything else to raise awareness of Parkinson’s disease and funds to facilitate research.

My wish to run, walk and anything else (including crawl) to cover the equivalent distance of 10 million meters was achieved by Jamuary 2014. I completed the races listed on the Race page to realise the vital finance towards a cure. However. more is yet to come and I am planning some epic challenges to keep moving but ultimately to raise £1 million for Parkinson’s research.

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Emma Massingale26th May 2015

I have had horses all my life, my godmother gave me my first pony at 6 months old, an 11.2hh welsh mountain pony called Minnie. Like many young girls I started riding before I could walk, I joined the local pony club, but quickly realised that the horse that I had at the time didn’t “conform” to the conventional training system, as a result I spent many times hitting the deck. I was told (Quite sensibly really) that I should sell him and get a different horse. I couldn’t bare it, I loved him, he was big, black and so beautiful…even when watching him galloping off to the next county after one of the many falls! I decided then that I would just have to get better and that I would, no matter what learn how to ride and train this horse.

This lead me across the other side of the world where the strict structure of traditional horsemanship in the UK went quickly out of the window and I was now rounding up cattle, working with wild horses (which made mine look like a pussy cat!) for the following few years I worked for some of the worlds top horsemen in many different disciplines of horsemanship, as well as competing in affiliated Dressage, Showjumping and Eventing.

In 2001 I set up my training centre in Devon gaining a good reputation for starting young horses and working with “difficult” horses. This became “what I did”. My work is covered regularly by the British and international Press.

I am really happy working with troubled horses and their owners, each issue being different to the next. Gaining a horses trust, respect and watching the relationship between horse and owner grow in confidence, seems almost magical at times.

In 2007 I received a call asking if I would I like to ride a 17hh Primitive Rising Stallion, get him going and maybe compete him.  I have worked with and owned a few stallions before and thought they were lovely but quite frankly a bit of a pain in the backside!

Marcus came out of the Lorry squawking like a stallion and, nothing he did changed my initial view that stallions were hard work to have around. He is plain bay (not particularly flashy looking) but moved well and had a bold outlook on life. Over the next couple of days I got Marcus ready for my first ride in the round pen, I sat on the fence – with my body protector and hat on, I climbed on from the fence as he was huge!  I put my feet in the stirrups and trotted one lap of the pen I then stopped got off and sat back on the fence stroking his head…I had never felt something like that before in my life the power and gentleness was incredible.  I’m not really sure what I believe in terms of connections but there was instantly something between this horse and I.

We just adored each other and every day I felt it was a privilege to ride him. He seemed to look after me when I needed him. I felt I could teach him anything. I then set about doing just that we could canter around reinless, standing up while cantering along, riding with all his mares following us around the field, I still had an issue of size he was so big I couldn’t get on from the ground bareback. I had seen lots of times horses being taught to lay down but felt that there was no way I was going to do it using force of any kind, so I was riding one day and I just new that this was the right moment to ask, I was amazed this powerful enormous stallion just lay at my feet, I snuggled up to his neck and we just lay there.

This incredible relationship with Marcus was developing, enabling me to focus on  not only turning negative situations with problem horses into positive ones, but also be able to create something really special. Horses are fundamentally who they are but with Marcus there were no previous issues it was simply a case of discovering the possibilities.

I enjoy the traditional disciplines with Marcus and have competed regularly. He has started really well winning his first competition and his first BE Event but we both love nothing more than coming home and removing the reins!

Working in this way with Marcus continues to inspire me to develop my other young horses and quickly the FreeRiding Team has evolved. My personal ethos being No Reins…No Rules…No limits!! Simply for the love of horses!

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