RUGBY LEAGUE legend Barrie McDermott and Super League referee Robert Hicks both successfully scaled Mount Kilimanjaro and helped raise £170,000 for charity.
And both men described it as the toughest challenge they had ever undertaken as they made it to the top of Africa’s highest mountain at 19,341ft.
The pair were part of a group of 38 – all but three successfully made the ascent – and close to the summit they played a full 80-minute game of rugby to enter the Guinness Book of Records for the highest altitude at which a rugby match had been played with Scouthead-based Robert officiating.
Barrie, a 42-year-old retired prop forward from Grotton, personally raised more than £6,000 which will be split between the Steve Prescott Foundation and Rugby League Benevolent Fund.
Climbing Kilimanjaro was the latest in a series of challenges undertaken by Barrie, the former player with Oldham, Wigan, Leeds Rhinos and Widnes who also represented England, Ireland and Great Britain.
He explained: “As a committed and professional sportsman, I was given challenges every week, but when I hung up my boots I needed to replace the adrenalin.
“I have actively searched for new challenges and when I put my name forward for Kilimanjaro I didn’t know what to expect.
“I have done a lot of challenges, but this was physically and emotionally the toughest, but also the most rewarding.”
Part of the challenge was undertaking the climb in six days as opposed to the usual nine which again presented problems with Barrie suffering altitude sickness, headaches and dizziness, diarrhoea and constipation.
Barrie explained being 18st was also a handicap as he explained: “My size made it difficult as well as all the injuries I had suffered in my career.
“My knees are not as good as they should be and I suffer from ankle problems and the after effects of a snapped Achilles, though I didn’t suffer any more or less than anybody else.”
Barrie added he spent a lot of time with Robert, a fellow Oldhamer, and was full of admiration for him.
He said: “I walked with Robert for a lot of the time and he was the person who impressed me most.
“He kept saying he had to make it to the top as without a referee the game would not count as a world record. And his steel and resolve impressed me.”
The game, which was played at walking pace because of the altitude, ended in a 10-10 draw. Other former players involved included recently retired Adrian Morley, Lee Briers, Garreth Carvell, Chico Jackson, Mike Wainwright, Neil Harmon and Alan Hunte.
Robert, who raised over £2,500, described being “very proud” at completing the challenge, especially given his lack of preparation.
The 34-year-old, who lives with partner Aimy and children Charlie (4) and Eva (2), explained: “I was only approached to go on the trip five weeks before departure after Steve Ganson, who was to referee the game, had to pull out.
“I had no time to prepare unlike some who had done altitude training in an oxygen chamber, but that is only beneficial if it is done over a long period.
“I found my referee’s training was sufficient. The altitude was the only problem, but everybody suffered from that. It was like you were suffering from the worst hangover.
“It was the hardest thing I’ve ever done, but also one of the best things.”
Robert, one of six full-time RL referees, added he was under additional pressure as he knew he had to succeed for the world-record attempt to take place.
He added: “The match itself was very difficult, for the lack of oxygen. It meant the game was very hard and slow. We were all tired and there wasn’t much food – it really took it out of you.
“But I’m very proud to have done it. I met some really good people, who will remain friends for life.”
Robert, a qualified solicitor who once worked for Oldham legal firm North Ainley, is a full-time official who also works in the legal department at the RFL.
He comes from rugby stock as father Ray is a former Oldham and Blackpool player and who for the past 37 years has had the Three Crowns at Scouthead with Robert born in the pub.
The Steve Prescott Foundation is named after the late St Helens and Hull Sharks full back, who died from a rare form of cancer in 2013.
It helps raise money for The Christie Hospital and the Try Assist fund, which supports rugby players with serious injuries.
Meanwhile, Barrie admitted there is great competitiveness in his household, something underlined by wife Jenny’s victory in the charity Strictly Come Dancing event staged at the Queen Elizabeth Hall in aid of Dr Kershaw’s Hospice when he was climbing Kilimanjaro.
“It has been a good time in our house and we have a strong family who all support one another. Behind every good man is a good woman,” he said.