Legion crew set for slippery slope

HURTLING down an ice track at 90mph with your face just inches from the ground does not sound like the ideal way to spend a few days.But a group of plucky, if slightly foolhardy, individuals will be tackling one of winter sport's most legendary challenges to raise £50,000 for charity.

HURTLING down an ice track at 90mph with your face just inches from the ground does not sound like the ideal way to spend a few days.

But a group of plucky, if slightly foolhardy, individuals will be tackling one of winter sport's most legendary challenges to raise £50,000 for charity.

The Cresta Run at St Moritz, Switzerland, is regarded as more dangerous than bobsleigh with a naturally made ice track having a tendency to throw racers from their flat wooden toboggans.

But this has not deterred a team from the Royal British Legion Eastern Counties, with little or no experience and aged between 57 and 70 years old , facing the dangers head-on to raise money for their Poppy Appeal.


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Legion county field officer Jonathan Collins, based in Bury St Edmunds and taking part in the challenge, joked that watching a video of the run had made him even more frightened.

He said: “When we first thought about it, you don't realise time is going to catch up with you. As things get closer, it is something you look forward to but also have a general apprehension about.

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“The Cresta Run is exciting and the run is fascinating – it is three quarters of a mile long and you can go speeds of up to 70mph. There are lots of bends and turns and places where you can come off.”

The team, made up of ten members all looking to complete the solo course five times, is made up of five members from Suffolk and also includes the Legion's Chief of General Staff Sir Mike Jackson.

The county-based members are Mr Collins, who lives in Fressingfield, Robin Hitchcock, from Snape, Richard de Lacy, from Waldringfield, David Sadler-Bridge, from Debenham, and John Storey, Aldeburgh, who, at 70 years old, is the oldest member of the team.

Each rider goes down the 514ft drop head first on a small solo toboggan reaching speeds of up to 80 miles an hour with braking performed by serrated metal toecaps.

The course, built from scratch every year using the natural contours of the valley and earth banks, boasts ten testing corners including the feared Shuttlecock.

Since its inception in 1885, The Cresta Run has become so revered that official talks are often given using x-rays to show injuries suffered by previous members of the St Moritz club .

It was the unusual aspect of the fundraiser that appealed to the charity chiefs.

Mr Collins said: “The charity is always looking for new ideas for fund raising. I think if you can catch people's imagination, you can raise a lot more money than if you ride around Bury St Edmunds on a bicycle.

“Although the Royal British Legion represents and helps all service people and their families of any age, we wanted older people to take part as the majority of our members are retired.”

The group will fly to Switzerland next weekand just one day later, will tackle the course for the first time.

Mr Collins said: “As the run is the only one of its kind in existence, we cannot train on a simulated run so the first time will be the real run. General fitness training has been all we can do.”

Mr Collins said the idea of taking part in the Cresta Run was first muted 12 months ago saying: “At the time we knew little about the Cresta Run but it seemed like a good idea.

“We had to get permission from the organisers St Moritz Tobogganing Club and for the first time in their 120-year-old history, they allowed a charity to use the venue for fund raising.

After getting approval, the next task for the charity was to find some brave souls to undertake the challenge.

Mr Collins explained: “We set about finding ten people who have not done it before and who were perhaps older than the average people who usually do it.

“We finally found ten people from East Anglia – five of whom are from Suffolk.”

Colin Hawkins , chairman of the Suffolk Royal British Legion, said: “I wish all these participants the very best of luck – they are all mad. I wouldn't do it and on that basis they are worthy of the support of all Legion members in Suffolk.”

Each member of the team wants to raise £5,000 each and anyone who would like to donate money can contact the legion's county field office on 01284 725833.

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