James Thompson is embarking on a once-in-a-lifetime challenge from which he hopes to raise thousands of pounds for charity.
The 21-year-old Excellence Scholarship recipient from Maghull has overcome life-changing injuries sustained in a serious cycling accident to take up a host of endurance challenges.
The Sports and Exercise Science student flourished on two wheels as a teenager and had been in contention for a place on the British Olympic Development Squad prior to the incident in June 2014, which left him in a coma with multiple bleeds on the brain, as well as other major injuries.
“When I woke up, I was left with a right-sided paralysis leaving me unable to walk, talk or eat”, James recalled. “I spent three months in The Walton Centre, a major neurology hospital in Fazakerley, Liverpool. I was told the chances of getting back to a normal life were slim, that after the initial impact the chances of living were about 10 per cent.
“But thanks to the amazing doctors and nursing staff I made a full physical recovery after 12 months’ community rehabilitation and could return to sport.”
While working towards reaching his previous level of performance, the former Head Boy at Deyes High School sought a different challenge – which is when he focused on combining running and swimming along with his cycling prowess, to help raise money for good causes.
“I began to compete in marathons, fell marathons and Ironman triathlons, all of which I had never contemplated before my injury.”
James’ first major event was Ironman Wales in September 2016, which involved a 2.4-mile swim, a 112-mile bike ride and a 26.2-mile marathon.
“Through sponsorship by family and friends, I managed to raise over £2,500 for The Walton Centre. I enjoyed the event so much that I did it again last year.”
Last January also saw James take part in the Fan Dance Trident, a 45-mile SAS Route March Race in which he was required to carry a 35lbs rucksack.
“The race is normally run over 15 miles, but I took the option of completing the course three times which involved running through the night with temperatures ranging from 5ºC to -13ºC overnight”, James stated. “Despite the extreme conditions, and tough competition I managed to finish second.”
James, who completed the Yorkshire Three Peaks Challenge on Christmas Day, has featured in local media, with his story being picked up by charity Livestrong for whom he gave a motivational speech in Texas, USA.
“I’ve also done countless sports clubs and scout groups – the experience in Texas was amazing!”
And now he’s looking to take his ambitions a step further. On 5 April, James is due to fly out to the Western Sahara Desert to participate in Marathon Des Sables. Dubbed as the ‘hardest foot race in the world’, competitors will be required to cover 156 miles over five days.
“It’s a particularly difficult course through sand dunes in temperature extremes of up to 45ºC at midday to below zero overnight”, James said. “All of this is done carrying your food and sufficient water to complete each day.
“To prepare I have full use of the facilities at Edge Hill University, including an environmental chamber where I can simulate desert temperatures. It has been an expensive event, costing £4,000 to enter. All kit and training is purchased on top of that so my scholarship funding has helped massively.”
How does an average training week look for someone who has to plan and commit so much time and effort into his preparations?
“The week would start with a 10km tempo run, followed by a track session on the Tuesday. Pilates and weights follows the following day before 200m-800m reps, with Friday a rest day. On Saturday I do 1km reps and ‘10 dunes’ work, with a 20km-40km run completing the week.”
For somebody with such an active lifestyle, it seems a natural fit that James is considering the Royal Marines post-university. But what about his next challenge?
“I may consider swimming the Channel and I also want to do a bit of hiking in Nepal. Dream big! The impossible only become possible when you believe it.”
James was selected for an Excellence Scholarship in 2017 – being awarded £2,000 towards his studies. Find out more about applying for a scholarship here.
Click here for more information about studying for a degree in Sports and Exercise Science.