Out Of Orbit – My Charity Nystagmus Abseil!

Photo by a spectator on the ground almost directly below the tower, looking up towards the underside of the circular platform at the top. The photo is zoomed out so that most of the tower is visible. Claire and Glen can be seen abseiling on the right side of the tower.

We did it! 🙂 On Sunday 21 October, after a month’s delay due to the typical British weather, I finally got to do my charity abseil down the ArcelorMittal Orbit Tower in aid of nystagmus research. That’s a drop of 80 metres (262 feet) from the UK’s tallest sculpture!

It was my first ever fundraising challenge and my first ever abseil, and therefore a big deal for a beginner like me. And it was an amazing experience, which I’m excited to tell you about in this post. I’ve also made a video that includes headcam footage from my descent, so do check that out as well.

Don’t forget you can still sponsor me until 23 March 2019. And thank you so much to everyone who has donated so far. Look out for your name at the end of this post and in the credits of my video (unless you were anonymous of course). Anybody who donates later will be added to this post and will get a shoutout in later videos too.

So I hope you enjoy reading about my abseil adventure, including my fundraising achievements and what happened on the day itself! Thanks again for your support!

Why I Did It

I took on the challenge in partnership with the Nystagmus Network and Moorfields Eye Charity, to raise money for pioneering research into the eye condition nystagmus at Moorfields Eye Hospital and UCL Institute of Ophthalmology.

I have nystagmus myself (as a side effect of aniridia), so it’s naturally a cause that’s very close to my heart. You can find out more about the condition and the research being funded in my original fundraising post, as well as my other disability posts and videos about how I live with my visual impairment.

Of course, there are many ways of fundraising, including the various ideas suggested by the Nystagmus Network and Aniridia Network, most of which aren’t as extreme as this. So maybe it seems strange that I took on the UK’s highest freefall abseil as my first event!

But I felt very tempted and excited by the idea. I live very close to the Queen Elizabeth Olympic Park in Stratford, where the ArcelorMittal Orbit Tower is based, and I knew the 20 mile views across the city would be incredible. I was also comforted by the knowledge that you have control over the speed as you go down. so you can take your time or get it over with quickly, depending on your nerves and your mood. And in general I’ve loved trying new things since moving to London, as regular readers of my blog know all too well. So I had to say yes really, it seemed the right thing to do.

Fundraising

I started by creating my fundraising page of course, which will remain open until 23 March 2019. I’m pleased that I was also able to set up text donations for UK sponsors, as that proved to be very handy for some people. This means you can text WENA80 plus a space and an amount to 70070 – e.g. WENA80 £5. You can donate £1, £2, £3, £4, £5 or £10 in that way. And I also used a good old fashioned sponsorship form to get money from some of my work colleagues. So I received my donations in various ways.

A image of a black smartphone against a red background. The white screen of the phone, on its side in landscape mode, has red text saying Sponsor my abseil for nystagmus research! Text WENA80 £5 to 70070. In the bottom right corner of the red background is a credit for Just Text Giving by Vodafone.

But I was also keen to promote myself on social media of course. I’m not a big superstar blogger with thousands of followers, but nevertheless I have built up quite a lot of connections, who I hoped might be able to donate or at least help me to spread the details around.

So to put the word out there, I created a promo video and blog post, and I shared the details on my FacebookTwitter, Instagram post & Instagram story.

Subsequently, Moorfields Eye Charity kindly featured me on their website, Facebook & Twitter, and the Nystagmus Network shared my details on their blog, newsletter, Facebook & Twitter too. And both charities continued to promote me at regular intervals, giving me additional exposure for which I’m very grateful. And thank you to everybody else who shared my posts as well, it really helped.

All my efforts paid off too, far better than I’d hoped! I’ve had lots of donations, both from people I know and from complete strangers, which is truly wonderful. By the time the abseil finally arrived I had nearly £900, and since then I’ve gone over that, which fantastic. And there’s at least £150 in Gift Aid on top of that (where the government add 25% at no extra cost to the donor). So again, thank you all very much!

There was a particularly big surprise in amongst all of those donations though, in the (very tall) form of Richard Osman! The co-presenter of BBC’s primetime gameshow Pointless and producer of many big TV shows donated a massive £250 (plus £62.50 Gift Aid)! Genuinely! Even now I still feel shocked by that.

I have never met him and we don’t have any mutual friends that I know of. However, he does have nystagmus like me, which he has discussed in interviews and a Nystagmus Network video. And I do enjoy watching him on the TV, he’s a great presenter and comedian.

So I decided to tag him in amongst other people I was tweeting, including a few other celebrities with nystagmus such as Marsha de Cordova MP, Sir James Galway, Kenny Rogers, apl.de.ap from The Black Eyed Peas and a couple of Paralympians. At best I hoped one or two them might like it or share it if I was really lucky. It was worth a shot at least. So I was stunned and thrilled to get that donation in response! Many thanks again Mr Osman, that was extremely generous of you!

It’s also important to note that my fundraising was actually part of a team effort. There were 10 of us raising money for nystagmus research altogether, and between us we’ve raised about £7,500, which is incredible! A big well done to everybody involved!

I’m very glad and proud that the fundraising was so successful. And the support I received during the build-up to the event – through donations, comments, likes and shares – really did give me a big boost in confidence and determination, enabling me to feel ready when the big day finally came.

The Abseil

We couldn’t get the entire nystagmus team together on the same day unfortunately, because the original date was postponed. So we all ended up doing our abseils throughout October. But I’m delighted to say that everyone was able to do it in the end.

Thankfully on my day, Sunday 21 October, I was able to do the abseil with my friends James and Claire, along with another guy called Matt who I hadn’t met before. We were all doing it as part of the Nystagmus Network team, with the exception of James Buller who was abseiling for the Aniridia Network to fund aniridia research. James and I both have aniridia and nystagmus, so it felt appropriate that we were raising money for one of the conditions each.

Matt, Glen & Claire posing together and smiling. They are each wearing a white t-shirt, in the centre of which is black text saying I Abseiled For #TeamMoorfields. Next to the text is the Moorfields Eye Charity logo - a blue circle with a smaller black circle in the centre, resembling an eye with a pupil - and a silhouette of a person is abseiling down a rope from the pupil.
Photo by Moorfields Eye Charity
James Buller posing with another abseiler in their Moorfields Eye Charity abseil t-shirts, along with a lady from Moorfields Eye Charity, wearing a regular white t-shirt with the charity's logo on the front.
Photo by Moorfields Eye Charity

We also had a mixture of friends and family members present to cheer us on, plus a couple of ladies from Moorfields Eye Charity (who had already cheered on a few other abseilers earlier in the day) and a professional photographer. So we had quite a lot of support, which was nice.

And we were extremely lucky with the weather too. We had a clear blue sky, bright sunshine, no mist, barely any wind and a comfortable temperature. It was perfect, we couldn’t have asked for better conditions. It’s like this date was always meant to be.

The ArcelorMittal Orbit Tower, a tall, red structure with curving girders that swirl around it, and a curving helter skelter slide from the top to the bottom. Viewed from a distance in this photo, beneath the clear blue sky, you can just see the very tiny silhouettes of 2 abseilers dangling off the left side.
Photo by Glen Turner

I was able to watch James do his abseil first, and it was reassuring to know that he enjoyed it and didn’t have any problems when I chatted to him afterwards. He then waited with his family to cheer on myself, Matt and Claire, as the three of us were booked into the same slot.

So the three of us got kitted up together, with Matt changing into his cute Tigger outfit! Luckily nobody had tried to get me into fancy dress, but credit to Matt for doing it!

Matt, Claire and Glen ready to abseil in their harnesses and helmets. Matt and Glen also have GoPro cameras attached to their helmets. Glen and Claire are wearing their Moorfields Eye Charity t-shirts and normal trousers, but Matt is wearing an orange furry Tigger bodysuit, to look like the character from the Winnie The Pooh stories, with black tiger stripes, a yellow chest, and a big round grey nose poking out from under his helmet.
Photo by Moorfields Eye Charity

The abseil is run by a company called Wire & Sky. They do abseils down the tower from April through to October, which you can book on to either for fun or with a charity. It’s not cheap, but then it is a lot of work to run it and to keep everyone safe, and it is a once in a lifetime experience. And now that I’ve done it, I can say it’s well worth it!

Wire & Sky logo, on a background that transitions from black to purple from left to right. The text Wire & Sky appears in the centre in large white letters, but the ampersand is styled to look like the hook on an abseil harness, with a line running through it and across the top of the words like an abseil rope. A simple silhouette of a bird is just above it on the right side. Just below the logo, smaller text says Urban Aerial Adventures, and further below is smaller text with the website address www.wireandsky.co.uk

The instructors were so friendly, helpful and patient with us from the outset, and they had no problems with the fact that I was visually impaired. I was able to keep my tinted sunglasses on too, which was important as I’m very sensitive to the sun’s glare. And James was able to wear a peaked cap under his helmet in addition to his glasses.

Glen on the abseil platform, with his back to the edge, as the female instructor attaches his harness to the ropes.
Photo by Moorfields Eye Charity

As is to be expected, the trickiest part of the abseil is getting into the air to begin with. You basically have to lean backwards over the edge, bit by bit, until at you’re at a point where you can step on to a ledge that’s underneath the platform.

Photo taken by a spectator on the ground, zoomed in on Glen and Claire standing on the abseil platform at the top of the tower as a large plane flies overhead.
Photo supplied by Matthew Dawson

It was this leaning back part that I had to take my time with, as it’s a very unnatural situation to be in. It felt like I was going to overbalance sometimes, even though that was impossible in the harness, meaning my body’s natural instinct was to wobble and try to grab on to something to stand up again. Overriding that reflex reaction took a bit of effort.

Glen is holding on to the abseil rope in front of him as he sits back in mid air, with his feet on the abseil platform in front of him, preparing to step off.
Photo by Moorfields Eye Charity

But full credit to my instructor, she was absolutely wonderful. I can’t remember her name sadly, but she was superb, gently easing me over the edge while constantly reassuring me and not rushing me. Indeed, all of the members of staff I met were very keen for us to feel comfortable and enjoy the experience, they were lovely. Very big thanks to them for that, but especially to my instructor on the platform. Thanks also to my friend Claire, who was dangling off the other line from the platform, for giving me words of encouragement as well.

Glen's headcam view of his female abseil instructor. She's smiling as she holds on to the rope in front of her, while guiding him backwards over the edge of the platform. Through the large window behind the instructor we can also see a lady from Moorfields Eye Charity taking a photo of Glen.
Photo from my Wire & Sky headcam footage

Once I got used to the sensation and was comfortable with feeding the rope through, which is all you have to do throughout the abseil, it wasn’t so bad. So after a couple of minutes or so I was eventually able to step down onto the lower ledge, which is tucked back a bit underneath the main platform.

Glen holding on to the abseil rope, sitting in mid-air as he steps off the main platform on to the ledge beneath, while the instructor holds the rope tightly above him.
Photo by Moorfields Eye Charity

Then you just have to take your feet off the lower ledge so you’re floating in mid-air with the abseil ropes supporting you. Again that takes a bit of willpower, so I didn’t rush it, but it didn’t take me anywhere near as long as the first part either. By this point I now had a good feel for what it was like to be suspended in the harness, so I knew it would hold me when I let go with my feet.

Photo by a spectator on the ground, zoomed in on Claire and Glen at the top of the tower, abseiling in mid-air a short distance below the platform.
Photo supplied by Matthew Dawson

And once I was hanging in the air, I was completely fine. It was actually very comfortable and relaxing from that point. You’re just sitting there in the harness, feeding the rope through at whatever speed suits you. So I took my time with it, savouring the amazing views as much as I could.

Photo by a spectator on the ground almost directly below the tower, looking up towards the underside of the circular platform at the top. The photo is zoomed out so that most of the tower is visible. Claire and Glen can be seen abseiling on the right side of the tower.
Photo supplied by Matthew Dawson

Although I can’t see detail at a distance, I could still see a fair amount. I was able to see the general size, shape and colour of the larger, more prominent tall buildings, especially those jutting up above the horizon, and I got a good sense of how far back the view went.

Abseil View 01
Photo from my Wire & Sky headcam footage
Another headcam view of the Olympic Park and London skyline, taken slightly further right of the previous one. This angle reveals some of the large grassy area directly below, where people were cheering on the abseilers, plus a large rectangular patch of grass slightly further away on the right, possibly a football training pitch.
Photo from my Wire & Sky headcam footage

I could also see the Aquatics Centre on my left, with its distinctive curving roof and big glass windows, and the huge London Stadium on the right, while directly below was a large grassy area where our friends were cheering us on.

Headcam view to the left of the tower. A river flows across the imge passing under a couple of pedestrian bridges, plus bridges carrying a road and railway lines, before disappearing between the skyscrapers on the right. On the opposite side of the river to the left is the Aquatics Centre, which isn't very tall, but has a flowing, curving light grey roof along its length, and big blue glass windows along the side. Grass and trees line the side of the river nearest to the camera. Many skyscrapers and houses fill the skyline in the distance.
Photo from my Wire & Sky headcam footage
Headcam view to the right of the tower, showing fellow abseiler Claire smiling and waving, with the large round Olympic Stadium behind her, and the London skyline stretching into the distance.
Photo from my Wire & Sky headcam footage

To begin with I couldn’t see our friends on the ground at all from such a height, although I could hear them and was able to wave and shout back. But as we got closer I could gradually make out their silhouettes more easily.

Headcam view of the large round grassy area where spectators can watch the abseil, with a few small trees along the left and right sides, and buildings of various heights across the background in the distance.
Photo from my Wire & Sky headcam footage
Headcam view of the large round grassy spectator area from a slightly lower angle. This time, on the large concrete area surrounding the grass, a few friends can be seen waving at the bottom of the photo.
Photo from my Wire & Sky headcam footage

Wearing a headcam was also a great decision. You can’t take up your own camera, but you can hire a GoPro from reception for £15 (card payments only). The instructors attach it to your helmet and start it recording for you, so you haven’t got to do anything with it. Then at the end, you just take the GoPro into the shop, they plug it in to their computer to get the footage, you give them your email address, and they send you a download link within 24 hours.

And I’m extremely glad I went for it. It’s a wonderful memento of the day, and by looking back at it I can see details that weren’t so clear to me at the time, even zooming in on things if I want to. The whole video lasts about 16 minutes and I’ve been loving watching it back. You can see a compilation of highlights in the video accompanying this post.

Now standing back on the ground, Glen waits as the male instructor disconnects the ropes from his harness. Part of the large metal slide around the tower can be seen curving towards the ground behind them, the end being somewhere to their right.
Photo by James Buller
Having detached the green and red ropes from Glen's harness, with just the white one remaining, the instructor prepares to let the green rope go, so it can be pulled back up to the top of the tower, while the red rope stays attached to a small ring fixed into the ground.
Photo by James Buller

Thank You!

All in all, the abseil was an incredible, stunning, exhilarating experience. I’m very proud and pleased to have done it, and to have raised so much money for nystagmus research in the process. It’s an adventure that I will never forget, that’s for sure. Thank you so much for reading this, I hope you’ve enjoyed my post and the video footage.

There are so many people to thank for making this possible, so here are the big shoutouts I need to give.

Glen, Claire and Vicky smiling and giving a thumbs up, as the Orbit Tower stands high over them in the background.
Photo supplied by Claire Amoroso

Congratulations to my fellow abseilers Claire Amoroso, James Buller and Matthew Dawson, along with the other abseilers from the day, plus all the other Team Nystagmus abseilers who competed the challenge on other dates, and anyone else who abseiled for Moorfields this past month!

Special thanks to everyone who helped to make the event happen:

  • Gabrielle Richardson, Joanne Green and everyone at Moorfields Eye Charity for your invaluable work to raise money for Moorfields Eye Hospital, and for organising the abseil.
  • Sue Ricketts, Sara Riggs and everyone at the Nystagmus Network for all of your help and support, both with the abseil and for everyone affected by nystagmus in general.
  • The fantastic instructors at Wire & Sky for keeping us safe and ensuring we had a wonderful experience.
  • The staff at the ArcelorMittal Orbit Tower for welcoming us and allowing us to abseil.

  • Our friends who came out to support us on the day.
  • Everybody who sent me messages of support online and in person.

And finally, huge thanks to all of my generous sponsors, whose donations for pioneering nystagmus research will make a significant difference to thousands of people’s lives:

That’s everybody I’m aware of so far. If you’d like your name (and website if applicable) added to the above list, then please do donate! Many thanks for all your support, you’re all awesome!

Glen, Claire and James smiling as they pose in their Moorfields Eye Charity abseil t-shirts, in front of the tall Orbit Tower, with the London Stadium visible just behind it.
Photo by Moorfields Eye Charity

Author: Glen

Love London, love a laugh, love life. Visually impaired blogger & Youtuber with aniridia & nystagmus, posting about my experiences & adventures.

6 thoughts on “Out Of Orbit – My Charity Nystagmus Abseil!”

  1. Congratulations and well done! It looks as if you had a fantastic time and did really well in the amount of money you raised. Some great ideas for publicising your fundraising too – I might pinch some of those myself! 🙂

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Thanks so much Emma, it was amazing! And big thanks for your very kind donation too! Hope your own fundraising goes well too, feel free to use any of my ideas if you think they’ll be useful! 🙂

      Liked by 1 person

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