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University academic joins racing prodigy Billy Monger for BBC Comic Relief challenge

  • Chichester’s Matt Berry helps young driver for gruelling 140-mile Comic Relief challenge
  • Double-amputee Billy Monger tragically lost both legs in 2017 crash
  • Former UK canoe competitor Matt Berry coached racer for first ever kayaking attempt

A LECTURER from the University of Chichester has spoken about helping double-amputee racing driver Billy Monger complete a marathon-charity challenge for BBC Comic Relief.

Matt Berry recently joined the 21-year-old, who tragically lost both legs in a crash in 2017, for part of his gruelling 140-mile journey across the UK. The Red Nose day challenge, broadcast on BBC One this Friday, saw racing prodigy Billy walk and cycle from Newcastle to Brands Hatch in Kent.

During the long journey Billy also attempted to kayak the Lake District, coached by the University tutor, despite having never used the watercraft before.

Whitewater specialist Matt, himself a former UK canoe competitor, said: “Billy’s an incredible lad who’s very down to earth. I was asked to get involved with Comic Relief by British Canoeing: it was mid-February and the weather was so bad in the Lake District that they wanted to give him some one-to-one coaching.

“We took him to Dell Quay in Chichester Harbour. It was still blowing a gale but it worked well because anyone can look like a good kayaker on glossy water on a perfect day, so I think he learnt quite a lot under the challenge of fierce tides and heavy rain. I’m not sure it helped cameras, though.”

Matt has worked at the University of Chichester for nearly 20 years teaching on its Outdoor and Adventure education degree. The four-year course was the only of its kind when it launched in 2000 and now attracts students across the UK and overseas who are interested in professional sports coaching, teaching, or working with people in the outdoors.

Senior lecturer Matt added: “Billy took to kayaking incredibly quickly. The BBC Comic Relief team told me that he’d had lots of training on a kayak training machine, which is really nothing like being out in the open water, but I could see he relished the challenge. Above all, he was fearless, energetic, and had a good sense of humour.”

It was during a Formula 4 race in 2017 that Billy, travelling in excess of 120mph, hit into a stationary car at Donnington Park. He was trapped inside his vehicle for more than 90 minutes at the Derby racetrack and, although undergoing various operations, doctors were unable to save his lower legs.

Mr Berry said: “I’ve seen a few clips of Billy since our coaching session saying that he enjoyed kayaking the most across the challenge – and he did take to it quickly. Kayaking is a sport for people of all abilities because, once you’re sat in the craft, everyone is equal.

“Billy’s dedication to training had really paid off. I hadn’t competed in a long time, so it was definitely a challenge keeping up with him in the end.”

The full BBC documentary will be broadcast for Comic Relief on Friday 19 March.

Find out about the University of Chichester’s BA (Hons) in Outdoor and Adventure education degree at www.chi.ac.uk/ba-hons-outdoor-and-adventure-education. For more on senior lecturer Matt Berry go to www.chi.ac.uk/staff/matt-berry.