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Matron takes on world's toughest foot race

Intrepid Eoin Scott, matron for the intensive care unit at Poole Hospital, will be putting himself through one of the world’s most gruelling physical challenges next month in aid of two causes close to his heart.

The Marathon des Sables sees participants’ run 151 miles in the scorching heat of the Sahara desert in just six days. They must take all the food they need for the run with them in backpacks, and even avoid being overtaken by two camels that act as backmarkers or risk disqualification.

The thought of taking on such a challenge would have been unthinkable for the 42-year-old, from Dorchester, just five years ago.

Out of shape, overweight and struggling to run more than a few metres, Eoin realised that he had to do something drastic when a short run left him gasping for breath.

“Five years or so ago I must have been one of the least fit and overweight people in the trust,” says Eoin.

“One day I woke up late for work and ran 100m to get in on time – the chest pains stopped after about 30 minutes. I suddenly thought: I need to deal with this.

“So I dieted and lost weight, but that wasn’t enough, I needed to get fit and do more.”

And do more he did. Completing the London Marathon in 2007 for the brain injuries charity Headway was just the first in a series of endurance efforts that would see him notch up an Olympic triathlon - a 1.2km swim, 25 mile bike ride and 10km run – later that same year, followed by the first of four ironman events - a 2.4 mile sea swim, 112 mile bike ride followed by a full 26.2 mile marathon – including one in Brazil, the London to Paris cycle ride, the Escape from Alcatraz Challenge in which participants willingly throw themselves from  a ferry near the notorious prison island and swim ashore in treacherous currents and freezing water, and finally, at the end of 2011, his first ultra-marathon - 46 miles up and down the mountains of the Brecon Beacons.

These achievements are all the more impressive when you take into account he couldn’t swim five years ago and has a self-confessed phobia of fish.

Now he has his sights set on the infamous Marathon des Sables, which takes place between 8-13 April.

Every day, competitors will run between 15 and 60 miles, contending with sandstorms and blistering 40c heat, and fuelled only by the rations they can carry on their back. But while Eoin says the distance may not be too daunting, he does will have his eye out for the local wildlife.

“The terrain will vary from riverbeds and stony wadis, sand and mountains, but what I’m really dreading is something called a camel spider - as soon as I heard about them I h looked them up on the internet. That’s as close as I want to come to one of those.”

Having signed up to the race – which has a three year waiting list – in 2009, Eoin said receiving the letter five months ago saying he had a place this year came as a complete shock as he had forgotten he had put himself forward.

Eoin says what will be driving him on during his training in the race itself will be the beneficiaries of his extraordinary feat.

He will be dividing sponsorship money equally between the intensive care unit at Poole Hospital, and the Chairs for Champions charity, set up by Ben Clark, from Poole, who was cared for in the unit after suffering a diving accident in 2010 which left him with one shattered and two fractured vertebrae.

While Ben’s initial prognosis looked bleak, the determined 21-year-old, from Poole, has fought his way into contention for inclusion in the Team GB Paralympic swimming team. Although Ben had hoped to compete in London in the summer, paralympic safety rules stipulate that competitors may only qualify two or more years after sustaining an injury – which mean’s Ben’s focus is now Rio de Janeiro in 2016.

“Ben’s story is truly inspirational, and the fact he is close to a place in the Paralympic squad is a testament to his character. Having looked after Ben immediately after his accident the Chairs for Champions charity seemed a natural choice for me.”

While the charity is currently raising funds for a specialist wheelchair for Ben, it is hoped that it will be able to provide funding for others in time.

“My plan for the future is for Chairs for Champions to be able to offer help and support to others in the same position as me,” said Ben.

“I’m really keen on being able to make a difference in other people’s lives, and I’m really happy to be working with someone who is putting in so much effort for these causes as Eoin is.”

For more on Chairs for Champions, visit www.chairsforchampions.co.uk/

Date: 13 March 2012

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