Our Team - Ray Funnell

Leukemia Survivor - From Deepest Mines to Highest Peaks (Like a Heart Monitor)

Ray and his wife LynneForty-seven year old Raymond Funnell is a happily married man with three children. In August 2006, Ray received news that changed his life forever - he was diagnosed with AML Leukaemia.  At the time Ray said, “I had no idea just how hard or how long the treatment was going to last and that it would totally change my outlook on life - for the better.”

Ray thought his life was all planned out. His busy engineering career was on track and very successful. Being a consultant for the mining industry he had on many occasions climbed down into deep mines in South Africa and internationally, now his world was confined to a hospital isolation room.

Ray was advised that his best solution was to look for a bone marrow “stem-cell” donor. He was fortunate enough to find a perfect sibling match with his brother Gary. On the day of the transplant, Lynne, Ray’s wife had to transport the little bag of stem cells from the donation centre to his hospital, “holding Ray’s life in her own hands” is how Lynne earnestly describes it. By the middle of the year Ray had recovered well enough to manage a hike with his son Jayson.

 RayNothing could have prepared him for what happened next. In March of 2008, Ray went for a routine blood test and found out that he had had a relapse. High concentrations of chemo-therapy treatments followed, leaving Rays’ body weak, anaemic and about 28 kg lighter. Ray said, “During this time I was kept alive by more than fifty (50) blood transfusions and passionately got my family and friends involved in becoming donors”.

Shuffling up and down the Oncology Ward Ray allowed his mind to escape and imagined climbing great heights. In 2010, after his recovery and recalling his daydream, Ray decided to climb Mount Kilimanjaro. He temporarily swapped his ‘day-job’ deepest mines for daydream highest mountains – one extreme to another!

Ray describes his first Mount Kilimanjaro climb by saying, “it was a spiritual experience climbing the highest mountain in Africa and an emotional experience reaching the summit with (his) three climbing companions.” Ray’s outlook on life changed in this moment and this change opened a new world, removing all the feelings of limitation. He decided to embark on an even greater challenge, of climbing the 7 Summits, the highest peak in each continent.

In training for this incredible experience, Ray completed twelve cycle races including the Argus Tour in March 2011 and then in July 2011, he returned to Mount Kilimanjaro and summitted it for the second time in nine months; this time sharing the experience with his then 14 year old son Jayson. Ray summed up the trip by saying, “We were so delighted with our experience that we came back and got tattooed with identical eagle tattoos on our shoulders to remember this trip forever”.

RayAfter this bonding experience with his Dad, Jayson was also hooked; then and there they decided they would attempt to climb the 7 Summits together. Father and Son, an unstoppable team!  So in January 2012, Ray and Jay headed to South America to climb Aconcagua, also known as the Stone Sentinel, which is the second highest of the 7 Summits - more than 1000m higher than Kilimanjaro!

After 12 days of climbing and under difficult conditions with thick snow, Ray had managed to reach an amazing 6700m altitude but was then too tired and dehydrated to continue to the summit a mere 262m higher. Jay, who was now 15 years old, continued on without his father to the summit at an altitude of 6962m and proudly flew a banner promoting the SANBS, the Sunflower Fund and his school King Edward VII (KES) School Flag.

With this achievement Jayson become the youngest South African ever to summit Aconcagua. Concerning Jays’ achievement, Ray said, “It was one of the most proudest and emotional moments of my life handing over the banner to Jayson to take on the summit and not knowing if he would return safely. Those five hours waiting was the longest five hours of my life.”

Ray and Jays’ next climb will be Mount Elbrus in Russia, the highest peak in Europe, which they will begin to ascend on 22nd June 2012.  After that challenge - in January 2013 this father-son team will head for Antarctica to climb Mount Vinson which is only 1200 kilometres from the South Pole.

They will face extreme temperatures of minus 40°C in this remote land. Again, the Funnell men will use these climbs to increase awareness for the need for blood, platelet and bone marrow donors. The remaining summits will be Carstensz Pyramid, Denali (Mount McKinley), Vinson Massif and Mount Everest.

Ray’s dream and definitive goal is to inspire other cancer survivors and anyone who is listening with a message “Never lose your Dream” and to challenge donors and prospective donors that through their simple gift of time and life giving blood products they can transform survivors into winners.

Our Team - Jay Funnell

Jay Funnell Born on 25 September 1996, Jayson (Jay) now 15 years old is in Grade 10 at King Edward VII High School in Johannesburg. Jay lives with his parents and two older sisters (Kim and Sarah). Jay admits to struggling to describe himself due to his wide variety of interests. Jay with his quiet but determined disposition enjoys more individual outdoor activities like hiking, mountain climbing, abseiling, body surfing, caving, travelling and seeing new places. He has been fortunate enough to travel to China, England, Australia, Argentina, Mozambique, Kenya, and Tanzania.

Jayson loves playing guitar in his spare time and has a tutor who teaches him a variety of music from blues to heavy metal. At school, Jay plays rugby and has been involved in rowing and athletics (long jump and high jump events). Keeping fit is important to Jay, so these sports help, as does the large amount of training he commits to for his mountain climbing endeavors. His training includes gym weights and cardio, stair climbing, hiking, running and some abseiling. Jay jokingly acknowledges that he doesn’t have a fear of heights!

Ray & Jay Funnell Since joining his dad on the Summit7 quest, Jay has found himself in an incredible journey and bonding experience as they travel to unusual parts of the world together and face the challenges to get to and summit the various mountains. In July 2011 they climbed Mount Kilimanjaro (a massive inactive volcano in Tanzania) together, which he found very exciting climbing, particularly when they climbed well above the clouds. Jay also enjoyed seeing the glaciers near the summit. Jay recalls a highlight being playing Frisbee with his dad at the camp at 4800m! Jay loved the excitement of reaching the summit of the highest peak in Africa just before sunrise on 16th July 2011. This was his first summit, which he and his father called Kili-4-Marrow. Jay acknowledges being proud that they managed to raise R30 000.00 for the Sunflower Fund and raised awareness for blood donors. Jay and Ray featured in an article in the August 2011 edition of the SANBS BloodBeat magazine.

In January 2012, Jay set off with his Father to climb Mount Aconcagua, the second highest of the seven summits, located in the Andes mountains in South America and standing at an impressive 6962m. Jay quietly concedes that this was a big challenge as it takes 12 days to climb to the summit and another two days to get down.

Jay and Ray had to set up their own camp in freezing conditions and then melt ice for drinking water and cook their own food. Jay recalls that it was extremely cold with the temperature at minus 16 degrees inside the tent. They had to climb steep ice slopes to get to the summit which was very tiring but Jay stoically kept up with the others in the South African team and was able to reach the summit on 18 January 2012.

Jay Funnell This was Jay's second summit and it whet his appetite for more. Although his dad was unable to reach the summit with me, Jay proudly recalls flying the Sunflower Fund and SANBS banner and his schools’ flag. Jay also placed a photo of Chris Corlett neatly under some rocks at the summit, in order to keep a promise his dad made to Tina Botha, CEO of the Sunflower Fund. This was our way to honour her late son.

On returning home Jay and the family discovered that he was the youngest South African ever to summit Aconcagua. Since their return from South America, Jay has been featured in articles in The Randburg Sun, the Cape Times, the Sunflower Monthly News letter, several times in the KES school newsletters and their website. Jay has also been interviewed on the Radio a couple of times and recently became “kid of the week” on ChaiFM. In February 2012, Jay was awarded a Certificate of Recognition and invitation to be an Ambassadors of Hope for the Sunflower Fund, which he readily and happily accepted.

At the moment Jay is looking forward to June this year when he and his father are booked to climb Mount Elbrus in Russia and to early next year when they intend to climb Mount Vinson in Antarctica.

Jays longer term dream is to climb Mount Everest when he is 18 years old.

Our Team - Lynne, Kim and Sarah (Funnell)

The women beside, ahead of, and behind the two Funnell men…

Lynne, Kim and Sarah Lynne the quiet (well, not always that quiet) power-house wife who supported Ray and their family through Ray’s illness, helped him see the vividness of the possibilities of life after recovery and who, along with their daughters Kim (21) and Sarah (18), are now the energetic cheerful (sometimes a little crazy) backroom team that keep things normal in the Funnell house, whilst the ‘boys’ battle their respective challenges and reach their intended peaks.

Our Team - Sponsors and Beneficiaries

You - A presently unknown vibrantly-minded passionate group of ‘can-do people’ who see the benefits of Ray and Jays’ objectives as clearly as Ray and his family now see life, living and what is possible when you set your mind to worthy goals and giving back.

…and our beneficiaries - The Sunflower Fund and South African National Blood Service who, given the right support, regularly make other cancer survivors life dreams possible, because of the generosity of sponsors like you and the new donors that heed this call for donations.

The final members of our team are regular citizens, people who can make a difference by donating when they are healthy and who can be given a new lease on life should they, like Ray, unpredictably need a blood, platelet or bone marrow donation.

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