Richard Branson has been known to pull off some pretty daredevilish stunts, from jumping out of skyscrapers to flying hot-air balloons across the ocean.
But this time, it was his son Sam Branson and nephew Noah Devereux who attempted to pull off something big. Together the pair organised and completed the Strive Challenge, a thousand-mile journey from London to the top of the Matterhorn in Switzerland. A core team of 10 people ran, rowed, cycled, hiked, and climbed to complete the journey while raising money for the Big Change Charitable Trust, a British nonprofit that inspires young people to achieve their full potential.
Branson and Devereux were joined by a number of amazing athletes on the core team, including former Wimbledon champion Marion Bartoli, triathlete and former race-car driver Stephen Shanly, world-record marathoner Arnaud Haines, and adventurer Justin Packshaw. They were also joined by special guests at different stages of the challenge, with Sir Richard Branson himself even participating in the cycle phase.
The challenge took them nearly a month of travel over a huge variety of difficult terrain, raising more than £560,700 for Big Change along the way.
The Strive Challenge kicked off at London's O2 Arena on August 7. Several special guests showed up to send the team off on the first part of the challenge, including Richard Branson's daughter Holly, Big Change founder Princess Beatrice, comedian Jack Whitehall, and singers Jermain Jackman and Natalie Imbruglia.
More than 50 runners joined the Core Team on the first leg of their journey. Sam stopped to take a selfie before the challenge began.
To complete the first part of the challenge, the team had to complete three marathons in three days -- a daunting task, to say the least, but they looked upbeat.
The Core Team of 10 people completed all four stages of the challenge, but hundreds of other Virgin employees and friends joined for different segments. Here, Chris Edge of Virgin Media and Tori Eaton of Virgin Money have some fun with the marathon portion. The first marathon took the team from London to Gravesend, the second on to Faversham, and the third to Dover, on the southern coast of England.
Once the team arrived in Dover, the plan was to row 22 miles across the English Channel in the Britannia III. Though the rest of the team had little experience with rowing, Core member Fiona Waller was once part of a 4-woman team that crossed the Indian and Atlantic Oceans.
But even the team's best efforts were no match for Hurricane Bertha, whose gale-force winds made for a dangerous crossing. The Dover Port Authorities blocked the team from leaving the harbor, and they took a ferry ride across instead.
Despite that disappointment, the team was ready for the next phase. Next up was the cycle, which was divided into two different stages. The first leg took the team from the French coastal town of Boulogne-sur-Mer to Troyes, in central France. The 279-mile journey was spread out over four days of cycling.
Starting on August 17, the second leg of the cycle brought Core members through the countryside from Troyes to Verbier, Switzerland. This leg was even more difficult than the first, with an elevation gain of several thousand feet.
Virgin Group CEO Josh Bayliss (left) joined for this gruelling part of the journey, which took nearly five days to complete.
Branson is never one to miss an opportunity to play a prank. He attached a carefully disguised motor to his bike that quickly powered him up the hill and past the rest of the team.
The entire Branson family was there to greet them in Zerbier, where Virgin owns a mountain lodge. Pictured here (from left) are Sam's wife Isabella Calthorpe, Sam Branson, Richard's wife Joan Templeman, Richard Branson, Holly Branson, and Holly's husband Freddie Andrews.
The Core Team was joined by about 40 other hikers on the iconic Haute Route trail, a challenging trek that offers amazing panoramic views of the Swiss Alps.
Once the team arrived in Zermatt on September 1, it was time to embark on the final part of the Strive Challenge: a climb to the top of the Matterhorn, one of the most iconic mountains in the world, and at 14,692 feet, one of the tallest in the Alps.
A summer of bad weather turned the trek into a winter climb, and the team had to delay their start several times.
They climbed for hours without a problem. Just 600 feet from the summit, however, Sam began to suffer from extreme altitude sickness that made it difficult to continue.
With one final push, Sam, Noah, and Stephen Shanly made it to the top with the help of their guides.
In one last dramatic turn of events, Sam became so sick that he had to be rescued by helicopter and airlifted to the ground while the rest of the team climbed down.
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