A man from the United Kingdom is in the middle of a 108-mile kayak journey along the River Thames to raise awareness for inclusive sports. The week-long journey would be an endurance test for anyone, but the man in question is no ordinary athlete.
John Willis, a 62-year-old former attorney from London, has a personal connection to his cause. He was born without arms and legs and spent many of his younger days sitting on the sidelines. Ten years ago, he launched Power2Inspire, a nonprofit organization with a mission “to embed inclusive sport in the sporting, education and community landscapes.”
The 108 Challenge is Willis’ and the organization’s largest fundraiser and has raised more than $10,000 (8,142 British pounds) so far.
The 108-mile kayak journey began on July 23 in Cricklade, U.K., and Wills is scheduled to arrive in London on July 30. Willis will be using a double kayak for his trip, which will allow various volunteers to join in and row with him for two-hour sessions at a time.
When the 108 challenge was announced earlier this year, Willis said he knew it would be a new test of his abilities.
“I am extremely excited to be taking on my biggest challenge yet – and I hope the public can get involved by taking on their own 108 challenge,” he shared on Power2Inspire’s page for the challenge. “After recently beginning my training, I can safely say I will be pushing myself to new limits!”
Willis’ intention is to bring people of all abilities together to play sports. It was this goal that inspired him to invite volunteers to paddle alongside him on the eight-day trip.
“We want people to come together and do sport together,” he told ‘That’s TV West Anglia’ in a clip that was shared to their Facebook page.
While it may be one of his toughest to date, this isn’t Willis’ first endurance challenge.
In 2013, Willis partnered with two able-bodied athletes to complete a triathlon. Then, in 2015, he completed a swimming challenge of 50 1,000-meter swims in 100 days. And, in 2016, Willis celebrated the start of the Summer Olympics and Paralympics with his Road2Rio challenge, where he completed all 34 of the games’ events.
For Willis, this 108 Challenge is merely one chapter in a story he hopes will continue on. He told the BBC he plans to continue hosting adaptive sporting events, speaking out about the importance of sports inclusion and finding new ways to challenge himself and others.
“It’s been an honour to host accessible and inclusive sports activities and events over the last 10 years, and I look forward to continuing with the success over the next 10,” he said in the interview.