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Issue 479, 18 March 2002

From rock bottom to mountain top – at a run

No one could accuse Hugh Lee of not rising to a challenge. He left school with no qualifications, but is now studying for a PhD. And, despite a history of alcohol abuse and innumerable past injuries, he plans to run the world's highest marathon from Everest base camp, raising money for health charities in Nepal and closer to home in Harrogate.

When Hugh left school at 16, he began to abuse alcohol, and was constantly in and out of hospital following drink-related accidents.

"I was a mess," he says. "I'd had so many injuries: pins in my shoulder, perforated ear drums, a fractured skull." Not long after his thirtieth birthday, he was run over by a car and ended up yet again in A&E. Lying waiting for an operation on his damaged ligament and shattered knee, he was visited by the consultant.

"It was a critical moment in my life," Hugh Lee recalls. "This well-spoken man, dressed in a hacking jacket, asked if he could have a word before he went home. He said he'd been looking at my medical record, and it didn't make good reading. A catalogue of accidents and injuries, all of them drink related. He also noted that I'd briefly – so I thought – fallen asleep. Far from being a nap, he told me I'd suffered a seizure, brought on as my body started to withdraw from alcohol.

"He warned me that if I didn't stop – not 'cut down' but stop drinking all together – then it was the end for me. His words sunk in, and when he suggested I talk to someone from a local rehabilitation unit, I agreed."

Hugh hasn't looked back since. He kicked the drink, and went on to do a community care practice course, followed by an access course leading to a degree in philosophy, politics and economics. He then got his MA in health service studies at Leeds, and is now studying for a PhD, looking at health promotion and HIV/AIDS.

Despite his injuries, Hugh, aged 40, has always enjoyed sport, and is now in training for the Everest marathon. It's unique not just for the altitude: it also involves a ten-day trek just to get to the starting point at Everest base camp.

Through sponsorship, he hopes to raise money for Nepalese health and education projects. He is also raising money for the carers' resource centre in Harrogate, which offers support and respite care for those with seriously ill or disabled dependants.

"I did some work with the centre last year," Hugh said. "I was particularly impressed by their young carers group, which helps children, some only 11 years old, who look after parents with mutiple sclerosis or muscular dystrophy. These children have to grow up so fast, but the respite care allows them a little time just to be kids."

The Everest marathon takes place on May 26, though participants go out to Nepal on May 4 to allow time to acclimatise. To offer sponsorship, ring 0113 226 8202 or email

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