Brave Cambridge girl beats Africa's tallest mountain in memory of her mum
Victoria helps to raise thousands for world child cancer charity
Victoria Stevens was just 15 when her mother Gillian died.
It has driven her to help others – and last year, aged 21, she climbed Mount Kilimanjaro in Tanzania in aid of World Child Cancer, which supports children with cancer in the developing world.
“I know that cancer is indiscriminate. When my mother died of lung cancer when I was 15 she was comfortable and passed peacefully in a well-furnished and clean hospice with her favourite songs playing, and surrounded by her family.
“Her death had a dignity that people in developing countries are not often given.”
Climbing Africa’s tallest mountain proved to be exhilarating – but a huge challenge and one Victoria nearly didn’t complete as she battled altitude sickness.
“Up the mountain I felt like every day was a high because I was in an environment where I was thriving. I love meeting new people and singing and chatting and did plenty of this when I was walking. It kept me going.
“It was only as we started to reach higher altitude that my mood started to dampen and I found myself missing my boyfriend and family a lot,” she recalled.
“The charity surprised us by asking our loved ones to send in cards and to do their own videos. Their messages helped as they came on a day when everyone’s morale was low.
“I struggled with altitude sickness on summit night and passed through the whole evening in a blur of sickness and falling asleep as I walked and whenever we took a break. I felt exhausted and can’t recall thinking that I needed to push forward but know that it must have been in the back of my mind.”
Victoria, of Duddle Drive, Longstanton, trekked for seven days up and down the 5,895-metre high mountain with 20 others, including eight colleagues from Price Bailey, where she works as a receptionist in the Cambridge office. The firm had previously sponsored World Child Cancer for two years.
“My colleagues thought I might not make it and it surprised us all when Farouk, one of the trainee guides, put his arm around my waist – he was already carrying my water and daypack – and helped lead me up to the peak.
“I really felt like I might have given up but it was his encouragement and the knowledge that I’d already come far which kept driving me on. Because I was so ill Farouk had decided to help me up there on his own and so I ended up walking back down from the summit, passing my work colleagues as they were on their way up to the peak.
“I really regretted not being there with them when they took the Price Bailey group shot, but strongly feel that I might not have made the summit had I not been taken up the way I was,” she recalled.
“The guides knew best what we were capable of and though not making the summit is not considered a failure, I think I would have been really hard on myself if I hadn’t made it to the top.
“I remember feeling exhilarated as I made my way down to base camp with Farouk, even skiing down the mud banks using my poles.
“I was thinking about my mum and my family and the fact that I’d made it. It made me feel really proud and really happy.
“The trek was the most unforgettable and incredible experience of my life and one that I feel has reminded me of the strong desire I have to help people.”
It was the end of a long road that began well before Victoria set foot in Tanzania.
“When the opportunity came to climb Kilimanjaro in January last year, I leapt at the chance to challenge myself and do something good,” said Victoria.
Each of the nine Price Bailey colleagues had to raise £3,990. Victoria topped this by raising £4,400 herself and in total the group raised £95,000, including £2,000 from a Price Bailey charity ball.
After the cost of the trip, about £77,000 went to the charity.
“Fundraising was a challenge that seemed impossible,” said Victoria. “But I was determined to meet this goal. I hosted three quiz nights, two of which had raffles, and had to push myself to be more organised than I was before and a lot more confident than I felt at times.
“Prizes for the raffles were donated by my friends and family, but I also purchased a few and approached local businesses for vouchers such as Nana Mexico’s and the Cottenham Curry Palace.
“I ran a stall at an event hosted by a cricket club in my local village selling ice lollies and merchandise on behalf of the charity. I also ran two ‘name the bear’ competitions, one of which ran at my cousin’s nursery and the other at a cake stall I hosted in the Rosie at Addenbrooke’s.
“On that same weekend I did the cake stall I pushed myself to utilise the time and did one of the quiz nights and two car boot sales.
“I also did a charity abseil with my friends down Broadgate Tower in London, which kick-started my fundraising, and hosted a picnic in which I had to come up with games for the participants.
“I also decided to donate £1,000 myself, from money that I inherited from my mum.”
She added: “I don’t know if or when I will ever take part in something like this again, but I know that what I did in 2016 reminded me of the type of person I have always wanted to be and the type of daughter who could make her mum proud.”
Victoria was nominated for an award by 2015 Yopey winner Amira Haque. She said: “Vicky has been amazing. She climbed the biggest mountain in Africa to raise money for charity. She did car boot sales, picnics, quiz nights, bake sales on top of maintaining her full-time job. All to raise money for a children’s cancer charity. She is looking for another project to do more good.”
Tony Gearing, the founder of Yopey and a former national newspaper journalist, said: “Victoria left her comfort zone and succeeded in doing something major for charity that would have made her mum proud. Well done Victoria, I hope you go on to do more for charity.”