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Read more: CEO on seeing the insurance profession rally behind a great cause

Leading the way is the entrepreneurial spirit behind the whole idea, Alex Gibson – founder and chairman of Challenging MND, and EMEA senior capital modeller at AIG – who will ascend the steps of a 52-storey high building the 39 times that it takes to match Mount Everest’s 8,800 metres. Speaking with Insurance Business, Gibson discussed how the idea took root within his mind and what the initiative will mean.

“Despite my diagnosis with MND, I still have the aspirations to achieve many of my lifetime goals,” he said. “I have always been fascinated with climbing Everest. It has always been at the back of my mind and I’m sure I would have explored this venture at some point if MND had not taken its cruel and devastating blow. Since my diagnosis, I have deteriorated across many facets of my life.

“This is my one chance to see if I have the ability and attitude to basically physically challenge myself to scale the equivalent height of Everest within a safe environment. Because, funnily enough, Everest has a fatality rate of over 14%.”

Gibson who has worked at AIG for over 13 years now, continues to work full-time, while he can and paid warm tribute to the support and generosity of his employer. It is the support of his team of family and friends that will be instrumental in ensuring that he completes the challenge as his limited mobility due to the disease will mean an estimated challenge completion time of about 35-40 hours.

And it is tapping into the support and generosity of the wider insurance market that is driving the challenge – which aims to raise awareness and funds to support families living with MND. A target has been set to reach £10,000 through individual donations, and the team is also looking to encourage corporates to sponsor the challenge.

Discussing the upcoming project, Tarzem Shoker, an operations manager with the University of Lincoln who is supporting the campaign, highlighted that it has several objectives:

 1. To raise awareness of the charity Challenging MND and how it helps the MND community

2. To inspire people through Gibson’s spirit of never giving up despite adversity

3. To raise awareness of MND in general

4. To raise funds via individuals and corporates 

Shoker stated that while spaces for participants are limited, the team is hoping to recruit 10 additional people to the challenge as well – and to bring on new corporate sponsors. The idea behind the scale and scope of the ‘Mount Everest Challenge’ is to provide a window into the lives of those suffering from MND, he said, as every day is a challenge for those individuals. 

Commenting on the upcoming challenge, Liane Iles, CEO of Challenging MND – herself an insurance veteran – noted that there are very few individuals who are not living with MND who would be capable or eager to embark on the World Record breaking challenges that Gibson sets himself and so the message is clear, “if he can do it so can we.”

“Even if it’s not a challenge of this magnitude he is a real inspiration for all of us to live in the moment and make the most of every opportunity that comes our way, even when life is tough, as it is for the MND community,” she said. “It’s also about teamwork – supporting each other, lifting spirits and making those lifelong memories together.”

Andy Long, Gibson’s friend, wingman, Challenging MND patron – and a co-conspirator behind the ‘Everest’ event – highlighted that by taking on these incredible challenges, Gibson is showing that he is not letting his MND diagnosis define him and in doing so, is an inspiration to everyone. With regards to the challenge itself, he said, preparing for the day is a case of going into the unknown as it’s difficult to train for something like this – except with the tried and true methods of a positive mindset and a can-do spirit.

Read more: Why charity and insurance make for a great combination

When raising awareness for the event across the insurance market, Iles noted that once numbers are discussed – 52 floors, 39 times, an ascent time of 20 minutes to an hour – people’s jaws tend to drop. There’s an incredulous expression that crosses some people’s faces at the mere thought, she said, while others who have been invited just “laugh nervously”. Amazingly, the team has almost filled its 10 available spaces on a first-come, first-served basis. 

“From those that are aware,” Shoker said, “this challenge has been viewed as momentous, the mental strength required to do this will be by far the biggest battle. The most inspiring part of this challenge is the fact Alex is determined to complete it, for us mere mortals it would be incredibly tough, let alone for some with mobility issues.”

As to how the climb will work on the day, Iles said it will start early Saturday morning – with staggered starts from 6 am. The challenge is expected to take 35 hours plus for Gibson, she said, and there will be a team of 10 on rotation supporting him throughout, as well as the additional 10 participants who are able-bodied and may summit within 15 hours. There are scheduled minimal breaks to replenish energy levels, water and snacks and an area to have physio when cramp sets in.

“This is a tough challenge,” Shoker said, “as well as needing good fitness levels, the biggest test will be mental, so ensure you’ve convinced yourself that you will do this regardless as to how you may feel physically.”

It’s an endurance event, not a sprint, Long added. And it’s all about completing and being on your feet at the end and getting over the ‘finish line’. To those considering taking part, his message is clear – why wouldn’t you?

Iles encouraged those debating the challenge to speak to Gibson as, “you’ll soon sign up!” The warmth, camaraderie and sense of achievement in joining the Challenging MND Team is something very special, she said, but so is the knowledge that you will be raising awareness and fundraising for the MND community who really need our support. And of course, you’ll receive a limited-edition Everest Challenging MND shirt.

Looking ahead to the challenge itself and sharing what preparing for December 10 is teaching him, Gibson emphasised that, despite adversity, it is amazing how resilient and capable the body actually is. It is going to be a real test to accomplish this challenge, he said, but one which he is keen and enthusiastic to do.

“Don’t let adversity hold you back,” he advised. “It is a classic example of unleashing the inner burning drive and desire to set the record straight. After all, we only are here for a short period of time and why not learn what you are capable of doing.”

Alex Gibson and his team will be undertaking the Challenging MND ‘Mount Everest Challenge’ on December 10, 2022 at The Leadenhall Building. To find out more, please follow Challenging MND on Instagram, LinkedIn or Facebook.


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