Still Inspiring

By Shaun Roberts, Principal Glenmore Lodge

A brief introduction to the inspiring figure that is Dave Hollinger; professional mountaineer, national centre instructor, coach, mentor, influencer, colleague, husband, father, friend to many.

Perhaps you don’t know Dave personally but perhaps you know somebody like him; those amongst us that in the face of true personal hardship find a way to inspire others. Dave is no stranger to adventure or the single-minded focus required to climb some the world’s most challenging mountains.

Since March 2018, Dave has faced his most challenging adventure within the confines of Intensive Care or a specialist rehab unit. A new summit not yet defined and a single-minded determination still evident. Inner strength once needed on the highest peaks, now focussed on recovering the smallest of movements and any marginal gain in recovery.

We first met Dave at Glenmore Lodge when he joined us as part of the then ‘Nightwatch Scheme’ in 2000. This yearly scheme offered Dave the chance to focus his energy on developing an outdoor career. He was a key driver within the cohort of interns that year and left us to go on to become a British Mountain Guide (BMG), run a successful business and ultimately become an influential figure in the UK mountain training scene.

Dave is somebody that seeks to give back. He represented the British Mountain Guides (BMG) and as a provider of Mountain Training courses represented BMG at many Mountain Training England strategic meetings, working groups and committees. He has an interest in the bigger picture, volunteers time to contribute to national strategies, whilst at the time guiding clients on many adventures and through MTUK and BMG trained and mentored our future leaders, coaches, instructors and guides.

We were proud and delighted to welcome Dave back to Glenmore Lodge in 2016 as a Senior Instructor within our training team. He once again set about using his experience to both lead many aspects of our work and, so typical of Dave, mentor others who were working towards qualifications through our Nightwatch Scheme (now Instructor Development Scheme) or trainee British Mountain Guides. The move back to the Lodge was part of an ambition to bring the family to the Scottish Highlands where Dave was keen to see his two boys, Finley and Toby, grow up and enjoy the full outdoor family experience. His wife Hannah could continue her NHS career at Raigmore Hospital, a career also focussed on supporting and helping others. Hannah’s knowledge and expertise would become critical in the hours, days, weeks and months following Dave’s accident.

A family ski day at the Lecht in March 2018 was a chance for quality family time ahead of preparing to work a week remotely out of the CIC hut on Ben Nevis. One final ski run without the boys offered Dave a chance to link some turns in the deeper snow at the side of the piste. We know from eye witness accounts that Dave tumbled during a fall but eventually got to his feet albeit holding his head and neck. Dave knew he had a significant injury but was able to work with ski patrol and understood the need to be fully immobilised for the journey to hospital.

During the fall the back of Dave’s neck had struck a snow fence post, sticking slightly out of the deep snowpack. Hospital scans confirmed that he had fractured C6 vertebrae in his neck. As he spoke to colleagues after the incident it was clear the fracture was stable, the spinal cord was undamaged and all being well, a full recovery would be expected once the fracture was given time to heal. The cruellest blow however was yet to come and several hours later, Dave suffered a serious brain stem stroke, caused by the severe whiplash of the initial trauma to his upper neck. Critically, Hannah was the first to recognise the subtle signs and raise the alarm.

It is difficult to comprehend the moments when Dave gained consciousness after the stroke. A ventilator controlled his breathing, he was unable to move or speak, but he was fully cognitive. We can only wonder at the sense of feeling when communication was first established by purposeful eye movements. The stroke had left Dave in the grips of ‘Locked in Syndrome’ and fully reliant on a ventilator.

From this moment, with the most incredible support from his wife and unequalled personal determination and resilience, Dave has been fighting back. Regardless of the storm that rages he heads towards a new summit, each day finding strength to make the smallest gains to recover a quality of life. Now in Sheffield, at a specialist rehab centre, he is free of the ventilator. He will turn his head to see you enter the room, and slowly raise a hand as a greeting. Still no spoken words, but patiently he will spell out a sentence on a screen with eye movement, to be spoken by electronic software. Frustrating for a man who delights in conversation and has such a recognisable Belfast accent. As yet Dave cannot stand unaided or walk, but there is strength in his body and he can achieve movement with support from others during his busy rehab program. He is still fighting for every possible gain and he is still inspiring us all.

Collectively the mountaineering and outdoor community are getting together through the ‘inspired-by-Dave’ crowd funding campaign, to see what we can do to help build resources to support Dave’s rehab and future. To the man that has given us so much, we intend to show him how he continues to inspire us, through our fund-raising events and activities, or just through giving. If you would like to help support Dave’s future, then please visit www.gofundme.com/inspired-by-dave and get inspired.

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