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Mission accomplished for PD squad

The England Physical Disability squad spent the weekend scaling Pen y Fan in the Brecon Beacons - Head of Disability Cricket Ian Martin was with them and blogged about the trip.

I've just returned from an outward bound weekend with our England Physical Disability squad in the Brecon Beacons.

I should dry out by Wednesday and will hopefully have mud removed from all areas by the end of the week.

Despite that, it has easily been one of the best weekends of my life - certainly since I left the Navy.

The England Physical Disability squad endured a training camp with a difference in the Brecon Beacons in Wales last weekend

Usually the squad’s training camps take place in the comfort and safety of an indoor cricket centre, going through drills with bat and ball led by head coach Chris Ellison. This was different.

Instead of reporting to a comfortable hotel and heading to a state-of-the-art cricket facility, we were told to meet at a remote farmhouse in the village of Libanus just outside of Brecon.

There we were met by Gemma Morgan, a former officer in The Royal Logistics Corp. This outward bound exercise was a follow up to the first meeting that Gemma ran with the squad at Malvern College back in July - oh how the weather had changed!

The purpose of the weekend was to bond the team closer together and also to take them outside of their comfort zone. We wanted to stretch them mentally and physically and to make them confront their own functional limitations so that they recognise that whatever difficulties they face in competition they have the capacity to overcome them.

The squad, split into two teams, were greeted by rain, a muddy field and their accommodation for the evening - two bell tents that slept nine. Very cosy.

Quagmire doesn't really do it justice. Those that had been to Glastonbury when the weather has done its worst will be familiar with the environment. Friday evening was spent erecting camp beds and receiving briefings on the mission - "safely reach the summit of Pen y Fan and return to base camp - supporting each other to do so and to complete tasks at pre-determined points whilst on the mountain".

Now, Pen y Fan isn't just any old regular hill in the countryside. Anybody who has read Bravo Two Zero or any other book about the SAS will recall that this is the mountain on which our elite special forces choose to put potential recruits through their paces.

It is the highest peak in the southern UK and provides an awkward terrain and uncompromising walking conditions. Where better then to assemble a group of cricketers with assorted disabilities and put them through their paces?

The boys were woken at 6am on Saturday morning and had 30 minutes to be washed, dressed and ready for a briefing on how to cook a ration pack.

I hope the teamwork the squad showed in getting to the summit of Pen y Fan will be repeated soon on the cricket field for EnglandDespite having been put in teams the night before and leaders being named, our breakfast party consisted of 20 individuals all intent on doing things their own way.

If you can't work together to make boil in the bag sausage and beans, the challenge of scaling the mountain would become very interesting.

Breakfast complete, the next two hours were spent receiving briefings on map reading, grid references and use of radios.

At 9.30am the party were ready to travel to base camp. Two groups set off up the mountain from two different locations with the intention of meeting at an agreed grid reference on the mountain and ascending to the summit together.

The weather was stinking, absolutely filthy. Low cloud cover meant that two thirds of the mountain was invisible.

Team One were in complete radio blackout on their ascent - no communication was possible between them and base at all - the weather, geographic features of the mountain and route they had taken put paid to that.

Team Two, however, made really good progress and were at the agreed rendezvous point on the mountain sometime before Team One.

The wind by this time had increased and the rain was horizontal, making walking conditions at that altitude particularly unpleasant. However, both teams made it to the summit.

Team One returned first and were full of themselves on their return - the sense of achievement and satisfaction was tangible. Team Two were exactly the same when they arrived some time later.

Everybody was buzzing. The one word that stuck with me from the staff was ‘privilege’ of both being part of the event and working with our players.

From being a group of individuals at breakfast, they came off the mountain as a team who worked for each other, looked after each other and celebrated each other’s successes.

Points were accumulated by the completion of given tasks, the standard of radio communication, teamwork and navigation. The winning team were promised to eat like kings in the evening whilst the runners-up were stuck with the military ration packs.

Whilst Team Two enjoyed fish and chips, Team One dined on boil-in-the-bag curry and rice but by this time I don't think anybody cared - the sense of achievement was the overriding emotion.

The real experience from this weekend will probably not have been realised until further down the line but judging from the feedback received so far it has made our cricketers, both young and more senior, think about how they prepare, interact and make decisions.

We have given them a life experience and a sense of achievement - their challenge is to take this into the performance environment.