Published Wednesday, 16 May 2012
The team are ready for their Celtic Crossing Challenge in aid of charity. (© Mike Sinclair, NIFRS)
The eight-man team originally discussed paddling from Northern Ireland to Scotland in aid of CLIC Sargent, but somehow decided that even that feat in less than balmy waters wasn't enough of a test.
As planning evolved, the challenge became more and more outrageous - culminating in the Celtic Crossing Challenge 2012.
Max Joyce, NIFRS
Over four days, the team will climb Ben Nevis, cycle more than 100 miles to the Mull of Kintyre, kayak from there back to Northern Ireland, cycle from Cushendall to Belfast and on to Newcastle. And just for good measure, they'll round it all off with a trip up Slieve Donard.
"If I can do something like Celtic Crossing 15 years after my diagnosis, then others can do it too - always assuming I complete the thing!" NIFRS Assistant Group Commander Max Joyce declared.
While he'll be joined by fellow firefighters Cahal Murray, Adam Lowry, Jonny Dick, Eamonn McKenna, Paul Murphy, Michael Kelly and Gerry Lennon - all from Central and Cadogan Fire Stations in Belfast and the Fire and Rescue Service's Headquarters in Lisburn - the challenge does have personal significance for Max.
He was diagnosed with cancer in 1997 and, while full of praise for the nursing staff he met during his own radiotherapy, he was struck by just how traumatic the treatment process could be for young children.
Describing one particular encounter with a terrified three-year-old suffering from cancer of the face, Max said: "Quite simply, seeing the suffering of this child broke my heart and I resolved to do something about it if I got better. Most people in our community thankfully never see this aspect of treatment for children with cancer."
Since his recovery, the firefighter has been involved with CLIC Sargent for a number of years and has helped recruit participants in the annual 70 Wild Miles fundraising event in Fermanagh.
"It involves a 47-mile cycle, a 10-mile kayak and a half-marathon (13 miles around the Fermanagh countryside) and it was here that the idea for Celtic Crossing Challenge was first raised - a much more epic event involving two countries and a sea crossing," Max said.
There's no doubt it's hard work, but it's worth every minute if we can in some small way help children who are suffering from this hideous disease.
Max Joyce, NIFRS
Although the Specialist Rescue Team have to be in top shape anyway, the firefighters have spent months training hard to prepare for their challenge and have been putting in long hours climbing in the Mournes, cycling all over Northern Ireland and kayaking both at sea and on local loughs and rivers.
While choruses of "Whose stupid idea was this?!" have apparently been heard, especially during kayak training on dark January evenings in below freezing temperatures or during particularly "character-building" climbs, the team are still agreed the cause makes it all worthwhile.
"CLIC Sargent does a magnificent job," Max said.
"Their staff look after the extended family and play with the kids, teaching them and their teddies to lie still for their radiotherapy. Genius, of course - simple, but effective and it means the children aren't so frightened during their treatment."
The Celtic Crossing Challenge is scheduled for 26-29 May and the team are hoping for lots of support to help them raise £20,000.
All the money will go to CLIC Sargent's Home From Home appeal - which has also been chosen as the nominated charity for this year's Irish Open at Royal Portrush - to help families facing long trips up to five times a week to access cancer treatment for their children.