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Gary Reflects on the Sweden Trip
29 Sep 2023

This September we had our first ever Climbing Out overseas trip!

Kelda and a group that had already completed a core programme, headed to Sweden to take on a wilderness canoeing expedition – and it was a lot tougher than many expected.

The team had to paddle most of the day every day, and at the end of each day, there was no warm shower or meal ready for them! They then had to start building shelters, lighting fires, and boiling water to just make a brew.

They slept under the stars and shivered their way through the night. The only way to get warm would be to get up and get that fire lit again.

But it’s when we get through things that are tough that we really feel a true sense of accomplishment.


We’ve seen a fundamental shift in so many members of the team in their confidence, self-worth, self-belief, assertiveness and understanding. That is something we know will never leave them!

Each of the group was asked to write a reflection from their trip.

With permission, we’re sharing Gary’s. Gary became one of our ambassadors after showing his commitment to the charity following his first programme. He suffered from PTSD during military service.

Here are Gary’s words…


I've been involved with Climbing Out now for a year and half, and within that time the skills, experience and opportunity I've been given has saved my life.

I've spent the most part of my life in mental pain from not very nice experiences. But what I would like to tell you is that my heart and soul felt broken into small pieces and put me in a very dark place, a place that I never thought I’d get out of. I would only get by because I wanted to help others and would deflect and avoid getting help by saying, "Let's not worry about me, I'm too far gone, let's help you."

I felt that my soul and heart weren't worth saving and I lived with that, not knowing my worth or seeing what I truly am. Kelda and the Climbing Out team helped me find that. But we'll get to that in a bit.

To really explain how I felt after Sweden and how much I've grown, I think it's best I start from my first day on my level 1 programme.

Hannah, my amazing and beautiful soul mate, drove me to North Wales where we were to meet. When I say drove me, she may as well have strapped me to the front of the car because I started to panic. I didn't know what or who to expect.

With less than a mile to go, I shouted "Turn around, I can't do this" I could feel the car closing in on me and the anxiety started in my stomach doing kung-fu kicks like I was being beaten up from the inside out.

Before I knew it I was dropped off and Hannah was on her way home. Standing with my bags and no clue what to do next. Out of literally nowhere, a lady with a big smile and a warm welcome came up to me.

I mean honestly, you could see the glow of goodness around her - it was Kelda with a massive welcome. I could feel my anxiety slowly fading away.

As the week went on I knew what I needed to do. It was to take care of me, but until that day my purpose in my life was to always put others first and I wasn't supposed to be helped. It was very overwhelming and beautiful at the same time. I could feel something inside me start to grow a glimpse of hope that I could be saved.

The hardest question was. Do I deserve to be saved? I didn't believe I did. But hey. One step at a time right? 

I tried so hard to put my newly learnt lessons into practice but still the same face in my dreams wouldn't let me. 

So no matter how much I tried I was still broken and that small light inside me began to get smaller, never giving up - I fought back.

A great saying I love is, “If we have the Faith of a Mustard Seed, we could say to this mountain, ‘Move from here to there.’"

That's what I had - a seed of hope inside me and I would one day move my mountain.

Level 2 group on a hill walk

Throughout the year I did my level 2 programme where I pushed myself physically, putting any pain inside me into running up the hills and mountains on the hikes, to push out the pain that was still haunting me. 

Kelda could see the frustration I was putting myself through. Imagine you have 2 wolves inside you - 1 good and 1 bad fighting, both as strong as each other. But you have the choice of which one to feed. I had to learn to fuel and feed to right wolf to get on the right track. I took that away from my level 2, as well as more mindfulness and the surrounding beauty of North Wales.

After becoming an Ambassador and getting the call for Sweden I knew that I wanted to give something back to this amazing charity that had helped me so much. So me and Hannah set up a charity football match in aid of Climbing Out. I did get the player of the match and to have my mum turn up and surprise me, even though she was going through Chemo at the time, just made my day even more special.

Charity Football Match

We're now planning another match for next year.

I have spoken a fair bit so far but I've only scratched the surface of how much this charity means to me.

So finally our journey to Sweden starts.

A week prior to going I was all set with some new kit, as well as digging old stuff out to take. Hannah even got me a knife to take for all the fish we didn't catch!

But unfortunately, the Tuesday before we went I had some really bad news about my stepbrother.

My brother was rushed into hospital with an aggressive brain tumour and he was put into a coma. One he wouldn't wake up from. Seeing him with all the tubes and wires coming out of him was heartbreaking. He passed away Thursday night an hour before my night shift started.

My head had gone and the excitement for Sweden dipped. I could see the messages from everyone else flowing…”I can't wait for this”, “It will be amazing”, “We’re going to have so much fun”.

All I could feel was numb, I'd just lost someone I loved and respected. Hannah was so lovely; I even think we ordered pizza and a bottle of wine the following night. I had to speak to Kelda as I needed her to know what was going on. Again, understanding support and guidance. I came off the phone, took a deep breath and said to myself ‘You've got this.’ 

Early Sunday morning I gave a sleeping Hannah a kiss and said "See you in a bit."

And before we knew it, me and Gav we at London airport and it was so lovely seeing and meeting everyone.

The group at the airport with a Team Forces banner

But it didn't get off to the best of starts. We landed in Stockholm with 40 minutes to our next flight behind a queue of 200 people and we missed the flight and I will admit I did ‘chimp out’. Security really didn’t understand the challenges faced by the group, telling Jasmine to take her backpack off. You know the one that's attached to her. So after about 5 times of me telling them she can't remove it, they body searched her. By this time my chimp transformed into King bloody Kong. They were so rude and disrespectful.

And breath...

Our first night in the campsite and I was out faster than a light.

The morning after I just smiled to myself, "I'm here. I'm in Sweden" and straight after that I was stung by a horse fly right on the wrist. "Nice try life but a little horsefly bite isn't knocking this smile off." We were taken about an hour from the campsite and dropped off at the first point.

Fire on, tents up - this was it; I was buzzing. Then at 2am a night terror and sleep paralysis kicked in. Would you believe it! I couldn't move and when I did wake I was busting for a pee. I was too scared to move for 3 hours - I couldn't move until the sun came up. Nope, not this time pal. I promised myself if I had another night like this I was going to fight back.

Tracy and Gary looking out on the water

The first day on the water, it's going well and beautiful. We stopped for some lunch and when we got back in the water me and Jas got pulled away from the rest of the group and we couldn't get back. I'm paddling like a madman, trying to turn around but we just couldn't do it. The other canoes came to help and as a team, we were recovered… I mean what a team! It was hard but amazing at the same time.

It's hard to put the whole experience into words. The group became one and we all worked to help each other.

And for each person to put their own stamp on things was breathtaking. Gav would say come Friday you'll have all got this nailed, and by Friday we were team GB at canoeing and fire building!


There were so many times I looked at myself and grew and developed, even when my chimp was peaking I took a step back and reset. And most of the time we laughed... there was so much positive energy I took in; it empowered me and that little Mustard Seed of hope was growing. It felt like my heart and soul was glowing.

The time out there helped me actually forgive myself and love myself. Something I don't think I've ever done.

But the outcome from my whole experience is that I've progressed so much I don't recognise the person I was before Christmas last year.

I know I still have so much to learn but I feel so good to my core. 

I will forever use everything that Climbing Out has given me. This charity will stay with me for the rest of my life.

Thank you.