Eric Rowbottom completes gruelling Med Steps challenge and inspires a community
Gibraltarian wheelchair user Eric Rowbottom completed a gruelling nine-hour challenge on Saturday, dragging himself up the length of Mediterranean Steps and inspiring a community with his positivity and determination.
As he reached the top, tears welled freely in the eyes of family and supporters, some of whom described it as the “most amazing moment” they had ever experienced.
Mr Rowbottom, 59, was raising funds for the Special Needs Action Group (SNAG) and the GBC Open Day Fund. More importantly, he was raising awareness of the challenges faced by many disabled people in this community, while proving too that physical disability is no barrier.
The trek up Mediterranean Steps is challenging for most people. It takes the walker from Jews’ Gate on the southern end of the Nature Reserve at 180m above sea level, up towards O’Hara’s Battery at 419m, close to the summit of the Rock.
Steep, rugged, narrow pathways with some 900 plus steps to climb to the top of the Rock, with picturesque views of the eastern side of the Rock, have made it a favourite for many.
But for Mr Rowbottom, who has used a wheelchair since he contracted polio at age eight, it had been one of those seemingly impossible dreams he had always wished to complete.
And today, he did.
After weeks of preparations and planning, and with an entourage of trusted friends, physio and paramedics, whose instructions had been to guide him but not physically assist him, Mr Rowbottom set off on Saturday 7.30 in the morning from Jew’s Gate, committed to fulfilling this one dream.
His challenge had already raised interest among many in Gibraltar’s community with his progress closely followed through social media.
Hailed as an inspiration even before he set off, Mr Rowbottom’s challenge was to prove far more on the day as his efforts captured the imagination of many.
Putting to one side his wheelchair, and equipped with a strong pair of gloves, padded overalls and a trusted team who would guide him, telling him where to watch out and try and remove as many of the sharp edged obstacles that came in his way, Mr Rowbottom dragged himself across the rugged terrain.
A journey which he had initially thought might take him three to four hours soon turned to double this as the rugged terrain proved to be as difficult as many had expected.
As they reached close to the halfway mark over four hours into the challenge, there was no looking back as Mr Rowbottom continued in high spirits along with his team.
“I can’t believe he is doing it, but he will finish it, he won’t turn back,” said one of his band of supporters, who patiently waited through the better part of five hours to see his friend reach the final steps at the top of O’Hara’s Battery.
A tourist who had come upon Mr Rowbottom’s challenge stayed to the end too, unwilling to leave the area of O’Hara’s until he had the Just Giving page details so that he could donate.
“I was worried at first,” Mr Rowbottom’s partner confessed during the challenge, “but he won’t give up and he will finish.”
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At the top of the Rock, a small group of well-wishers who had gathered early on steadily grew in numbers, as family, friends and gathered to greet him.
The first glimpse of Mr Rowbottom through the thicket, surrounded by the entourage who guided him unflinchingly through the terrain, brought about the first cheers and a special message of encouragement: “Grandpa you can do it.”
Down below, Mr Rowbottom looked up to the top of the step cliff and the zig zag stairs that mark the final stretch of Mediterranean Steps, a beaming smile on his face.
As his five-year old granddaughter peered down, an exhausted push became a quicker paced effort.
There were cheers and jokes and laughter as he pushed on. “It’s just another turn,” someone shouted, even though there were still several to go. Down below, laughter and a smile, and another determined push.
Mr Rowbottom hopes to raise £100,000 in total and on Saturday, his Just Giving page had already topped over £20,000 in donations.
For those who had not ventured down to see him climb the earlier stretch, the enormity of the task he had undertaken became even more apparent as they watched his slow but steady transition through the final stretch.
A climb which would take normally five minutes stretched to close to half an hour as he neared the final steps.
There was no escaping the importance of the moment as Mr Rowbottom’s eyes welled with tears on the final steps.
Two tired but focused volunteers maintained their alertness, placing their hands simultaneously by a rock jutting out to prevent Mr Rowbottom’s head from scraping it as he dragged himself through the narrowest of passages to the end.
With the sun shining down over O’Hara’s Battery, Mr Rowbottom embraced his family as he reached the top.
The celebrations were soon to be cut short though, as Mr Rowbottom asked to continue through the rugged terrain which led to the road.
“I have got here now, so why not,” he shrugged.
Down on the road, the champagne corks popped and Mr Rowbottom donned a new t-shirt emblazoned with the legen “nothing is impossible.”
As news of his achievement spread through social media, Mr Rowbottom, who had told the Chronicle just this week that he was not trying to inspire anyone but just raise awareness, was soon becoming a local hero.
From top athletes and medal-winning sportspeople, to politicians, associations, top business people and even regional television channels, the accolades followed.
Mr Rowbottom may not have set out to inspire anyone, but he did.
To donate go to the official justgiving E-M-Power page click here
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