Re-uniting 25 years after their ship was bombed during the Falklands Conflict has led to a new series of adventures together for Stephen Jopling and Chris Warner as they prepare for the Active Northumberland Kielder Run Bike Run challenge.
The Navy veterans were on-board HMS Plymouth when it was attacked by five aircraft on June 8, 1982. Chris, known to Navy colleagues as “Jack”, sustained serious head injuries for which he continued to be treated for almost 30 years.
Now, with a combined age of 115, they are preparing to take on the Run Bike Run event, which will take place at Kielder as part of the Kielder Sporting Weekend, on October 1 and 2.
Run Bike Run is a duel discipline race that is part of the build-up to the weekend’s main event, the seventh annual Active Northumberland Kielder Marathon. The weekend is run by Events of the North, a company led by Olympians Steve Cram and Allison Curbishley, in conjunction with Northumbrian Water, Active Northumberland, and Northumberland County Council.
This will be the second time the former colleagues have tackled the 42km route as a team, coming 6th in 2015. Stephen runs the first and third of the three stages, with Chris cycling the middle segment. The pair are raising funds for The Tynedale Hospice at Home.
Stephen, who lives in nearby Stannersburn, got back in touch with Chris, who lives in Stone, near Stoke, almost ten years ago, via a reunion website. It was the first time they had seen each other since the Conflict.
Stephen said: “I was in charge of the Mess Deck and Chris worked in my department with me, and we were really close friends. He was wounded doing my job while I was doing some training in the boiler room. We were attacked by five aircraft.”
Chris said: “A piece of metal, like a hinge from a door, went through my head, into the membrane of my brain. I just got a straight hit, I didn’t know much about it, to be honest. I was having operations only eight years ago.”
Chris now has a titanium plate in his head, but hasn’t specifically trained to take part in sporting events. So why the Active Northumberland Kielder Run Bike Run?
Chris said: “What inspired me last year was that Steve said I was doing it. He’s always been my boss.”
The Active Northumberland Kielder Run Bike Run follows an almost entirely off-road course around northern Europe’s largest man-made lake, Kielder Water, in Northumberland. The first run stage follows the first 11km of the Kielder Marathon Course to Kielder Village.
The next stage covers 25km of the North Shore on two wheels, before competitors return over the impressive Kielder Dam to the South Shore and the second transition on the approach to Bull Crag Peninsula.
The final stage is a 6km run taking in the final stages of the Kielder 10k route and the stunning Bull Crag Peninsula and back along the Lakeside Way to the finish at Leaplish Waterside Park.
Race Director Steve Cram said: “Steve and Chris did a fantastic job, coming 6th last year and we are looking forward to seeing if they can beat that this year. It’s incredible to see people battling back from such traumatic experiences and proving how resilient the human body is.”
David Hall, Head of Leisure Strategy, said: “This is a fantastic story of comradeship that is hugely inspiring. For two colleagues to be involved in such a life-changing incident, be separated and then find each other again and team up for the Active Northumberland Kielder Run Bike Run is truly remarkable.”
Northumberland County Councillor Val Tyler, Cabinet Member for Arts, Leisure, and Culture, said: “Chris and Steve have such an inspiring story to tell and it’s great to see them back for the Kielder Marathon weekend again this year. Nobody understands teamwork better than our veterans, and I’m sure the two friends will carry that spirit with them again into this year’s event.”
For further media information, contact Paul White on 0191 3015325.