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Helen Skelton
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Highwire Walking - Kayaking the Amazon

Blue Peter television presenter Helen Skelton was teetering on a steel wire slightly narrower than a 10 pence coin suspended 217 feet up between two of Battersea Power Station's chimneys. She became the first person to walk between the chimneys of Battersea Power Station on a high-wire. The 27-year-old covered the 150-metre stretch above the landmark south London building in just 11 minutes. She was 66 metres up for the Red Nose Day charity challenge, which was delayed by 40 minutes because of high winds. But Helen completed the task at a steady speed despite her eight-metre long balance pole swaying in front of her. The BBC children's presenter was inspired to do the stunt by the documentary Man On Wire, which shows Frenchman Philippe Petit walking on a tightrope between the twin towers of New York's World Trade Centre in 1974. She had been training in France in recent weeks, which she described as "really intense" and "physically exhausting." A safety device attached to her in case she fell was not needed as Helen made no slip-ups on the 18mm thick wire.

Skelton paddled her way into the record books, not once but twice. "It feels weird" she says, getting used to life on dry land after spending 12 hours a day for six weeks, winding her way down the Amazon, willing herself on for the sake of all the thousands of seven- and eight-year-old Blue Peter fans who sent their good wishes. The 26-year-old Blue Peter television presenter from Cumbria has not only completed the longest solo journey in a kayak at 2,010 miles – but also set the longest distance travelled in 24 hours by a woman in a kayak at 75 miles. She set off from Nauta in Peru, she was miserable for the first few weeks. "I spent most of that time in tears. I felt tired, sick and really grumpy and I was shockingly stroppy with the film crew".

Skelton has learned many lessons over the past two months, not least that there are more important things to think about than shampoo when setting off for the Equator. "I gave up on my hair" she says. "I was pouring buckets of water over my head just to keep cool." She got other things wrong, too. Taking just one pair of gloves was unrealistic; she ended up with 150ft of tape wound round her hands to keep them from cracking. Reluctant to drink the necessary 15 litres of water a day because she didn't want to have to keep stopping to pee, she became dehydrated and twice had to be given injections for heat exhaustion. Her feet were the main problem. "They rubbed continuously on the bottom of the boat which was wet: I had such bad sores that I had to sleep with my feet on a pillow."

With the pain, the heat and the mosquitoes, she slept badly before her four o'clock starts each morning. Further gloom descended when her iPod broke and she had nothing to distract her from thoughts about the ordeal ahead. "I was reduced to trying to remember the names of shops in certain streets and all the names of people in my primary school class. I felt lowest on Saturdays when I would normally go to football with my family, so I invented singing games with the crew."

"The worst moment was when I reached the half-way mark. When I should have been celebrating, I started throwing up. Next morning, I woke up to find the rest of the crew sick, and the day-boat carrying the kayak had sunk." Brazilians raised it and patched it up. She carried on, but the locals warned that she would never paddle more than 30 miles a day, and would not finish in time for the flight home. At her lowest ebb, she decided there was little point fretting about progress.

Living for the moment made all the difference, that and a bloody-mindedness developed as a younger sister determined not to be outdone by her brother. The further she travelled, the tougher the paddling became. The Amazon moved more slowly, making it hard to make headway. A strong wind buffeted her about the waterway, which was by then as wide as the English Channel and almost as busy. Tankers passed by, their wash sending her off course and the waves became so huge that she would disappear from view.

But she had learned to enjoy herself. "Fish jumped in my lap. The birds and butterflies were so colourful that you would think they were hand-made. Most memorable of all was the jaw-dropping, eye-popping extravaganza put on by mating pink dolphins on Valentine's Day. By the end, I was crying because I didn't want to leave."

Making 50 miles a day, she reached the finish at Almeirim on Feburary 28, three and a half days ahead of schedule. A scoffer within the BBC sent her an email saying he owed her a drink for being so negative. "It is not about 'I told you so', she will tell the young fans who followed her progress. "You should always encourage people. The worst that can happen is that they fail."

But there is a downside to success: she has been badly bitten by the endurance-challenge bug and is already thinking about the next adventure. "Something in a cold climate, maybe rock-climbing. You don't know how to do it, people say. But I didn't know how to kayak either." Helen hopes her journey will inspire people to rise to their own challenge for Sport Relief. Enter the Sport Relief Mile and help raise money that will change lives for ever. After 6 weeks on the Amazon BBC presentor crossed the 2010 mile finish line yesterday morning while broadcasting live on BBC news.

It was extremely exciting and more than a little emotional. Over the last 40 days she had paddled for 366 hours, done over a million strokes, had around 50 metres of tape on her hands, eaten about 525 mints, had 2 injections, broken 2 world records, had about 150 mosquito bites, dropped 3 pairs of expensive sunglasses in the river and never capsized once.



See more at: www.bbc.co.uk/cbbc/bluepeter

Helen Skelton








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