Three things brought Daren Parr, John Dillane and Brian Heffernan together: They were once obese, they are taxi drivers and they live in London.
And now, there is another passion that binds them even closer—mountain climbing.
In 2018, when they set out to climb Mt Kilimanjaro, which is 5,895m high, they each weighed more than 100kg.
At the end of their safari and having lost about six kilogrammes each, they decided to do more than just climb Mt Kilimanjaro: Why not return to Tanzania for a mountain-to-mountain climb?
Dillane came up with the idea, and Parr went a level higher, suggesting they put together an even bigger group.
“Why not get a team of taxi drivers to meet us at the foot of Kilimanjaro then get as many London of them to the roof of Africa as we can?”
Their wives, Natalie and Jackie decided to put together a plan to come back and help as many children as they could by supplying books, school uniform and pens.
Thus “Cabbies Do Kilimanjaro” was born, and now boasts 30 members. The aim is to drop 30kg of weight per person every year, get fit, and climb Mt Kilimanjaro to raise money for the taxi charity.
A tweet was sent out: “Any other cabbies out there fancy losing weight with me and then climb Mount Kilimanjaro?”
In October 2019, they stood at the summit of Africa’s highest mountain, the last part of their epic challenge after losing weight and having raised $19,963 for the charity for military veterans.
This September, two of the original cabbies, Parr and Dillane, have embarked on a much bigger challenge, with 30 London taxi drivers having responded to the call to change their lives by losing weight, getting fit and climbing two mountains, Kilimanjaro and Mt Meru, which stands at 4,565m.
The money raised will go to disabled and under privileged children in London and Tanzania.
Parr and Dillane will first climb Mt Meru, and then meet the other cabbies at the foot of Mt Kilimanjaro to attempt a six-day ascent to the summit.
What drives the taxi drivers?
Having an occupation that requires you to sit for most of the day can make keeping fit and healthy difficult.
London taxi drivers of all ages and weights each have their own reason for taking on this epic challenge.
“A middle-aged man is capable of doing wonders. From being out of breath from climbing two flights of stairs to now climbing one of the highest standing mountains in the world, I’m proof that anyone who puts their mind to it can change their life,” said Dillane.
Parr said climbing Kilimanjaro in 2019 was the toughest thing he has ever done in his life. The combination of strong winds and altitude sickness made them stumble up in the final 600 metres, but they never gave up because it was for charity.
“The final 45 minutes of the climb were the hardest on us. We were exhausted, only thinking about our aching legs. I realised that there is nothing you can do to prepare yourself to climb Kilimanjaro, apart from being fit as you can,” Parr added.
Inspiring and motivating other people to experience what they had done has been their goal, especially those who think they are overweight or too old.
After the 2019 experience, they never expected to have a second challenge, but many fellow London taxi drivers plan to join them this year.
“Kilimanjaro is a hard challenge, but one that anyone can do with the right mindset. You just put one foot in front of the other until you reach the top,” Parr said.
Before attempting the gruelling ascent in September, the 30 cabbies began training with the Be Military Fit group for a year to ensure they are physically fit.
The drivers organise smaller climbs on hills and mountains like.
Cabbies Do Kilimanjaro aims to raise $8,318 for the London Taxi Drivers charity for children, and $2,773 for a children’s community project in Tanzania.
The taxi drivers have been made Tanzanian tourist ambassadors, and following their climb last year they were whisked off to enjoy a safari with their partners.