Climb with Rio: Dubai dad to climb the equivalent of Burj Khalifa with his son strapped to his back

The global challenge by Team Angel Wolf aims to raise awareness of people with disabilities

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The Watson family, who is behind the UAE non-profit organisation Team Angel Wolf, is always looking to raise awareness of inclusion and people with disabilities. Amid a global pandemic, when parents and children are staying at home to help curb the spread of the coronavirus, this message has taken on a new meaning.

That is why the Watsons are inviting this weekend people from all over the world to take part in a new challenge called Climb with Rio.

Who are Team Angel Wolf?

Dad Nick and mum Delphine are the husband-and-wife pair behind Team Angel Wolf, which they started for their son, Rio, who has a rare chromosome disorder that’s left him with severe learning and fine motor skills disabilities, among other difficulties. They call Rio, who turned 17 this week, “angel” and their daughter Tia, 12, “little wolf” – hence the name Team Angel Wolf.

The family is well known in the UAE for taking on tough physical challenges, in which they always include Rio, from marathons and triathlons to Guinness World Record-breaking swims. While most of these events have taken place outdoors in the past, Nick, who is a former British Royal Marine, was keen to find a new challenge to take on indoors during the crisis.

"Being at home has obviously put restrictions on what Rio has been able to do," Nick tells The National. "Over the last seven to eight weeks, he's been at home a lot. He's non-verbal, so I'm not sure he understands exactly what's going on. He will continually ask 'Dada, race?', because most weekends we would usually be out racing.

"This has had a little bit of an affect on him."

As one of Nick’s life goals is to climb the stairwell of Dubai’s Burj Khalifa, the world’s tallest building, with Rio strapped to his back, he figured this would be the perfect time to do just that – except instead they’re going to do it in their Sustainable City home by climbing up and down their own stairwell.

And the Watsons are inviting the world to join them.

“We were thinking of things we could do to get Rio involved and keep him active, but most importantly be inclusive as well. It’s not just about us doing the event, but also about how we open this up for other people to join in.”

What is the Climb with Rio challenge?

This weekend, from Friday to Sunday, May 8 to 10, the Watson family is asking people to climb the equivalent of a famous world landmark in their own homes in recognition of people of determination who might be struggling amid the crisis.

Even if you just have 15 minutes to join in and think about this little boy on my back, who will be smiling and laughing and telling daddy to go quicker, that would be fantastic

“We’re always trying to spread awareness of children with disabilities and this is a very challenging time for many families who have a child of determination. This is a way of spreading that message to others, to make people think about other people in their community.”

It’s not just for the able-bodied. The Watsons have put together a manual so that everyone – from those without stairs to those who are wheelchair-bound – can get involved. “Ten metres in one direction is the equivalent of one vertical climb, so people in wheelchairs can move in that space instead.”

Not everyone has to climb the equivalent of the Burj Khalifa, which is 829.8 metres tall. There are suggestions of other buildings, from the Eiffel Tower in Paris (300m) to the Great Pyramid of Giza (139m) and the Taj Mahal (73m), on the website, too. Information on how to work out how many steps to climb or floor space you will need to cover is also available in the manual.

“It’s entirely up to anyone what they would like to do."

#ClimbWithRio How to Join?

Posted by Team Angel Wolf on Wednesday, April 29, 2020

Only going up counts towards the actual climb, he says. For Nick and Rio, they will have to go up and down their flight of stairs 118 times to traverse the equivalent of the Burj Khalifa. He expects it to take them between three and four hours.

Everyone should choose a challenge that suits their level of fitness and physical abilities, says Nick. “Most importantly, we must ensure it’s a fun thing for people to do together over the weekend. Pick something that’s feasible, that the whole family can do, and make it a fun project so everyone can get involved.”

Who’s getting involved?

“It’s tough times for everyone,” says Nick. “Even for us, as a non-profit, we have no idea what the future holds. Will we get support in the future? We can’t do any fundraising, so we can only receive [corporate] sponsorship. And it’s not just us in this position – so many people are struggling, so we wanted to do something that would bring the global community together.

“I think sports or activity always breaks down barriers.”

While they only announced the challenge a few days ago, the team has already started receiving videos of children who are training at home with their carers and parents.

Rio, 16, and his father Nick Watson, a former Royal Marine, taking part in Dubai Fitness Challenge. Courtesy: TeamAngelWolf
Rio, 16, and his father Nick Watson, a former Royal Marine, taking part in Dubai Fitness Challenge. Courtesy: TeamAngelWolf

It's not just individuals who have gotten involved, either. Dubai's Knowledge and Human Development Authority also loves the idea. "They think it's fantastic, because it's also like a math lesson for kids." Worksheets for participating children can be downloaded on the website.

"We’re also trying to reach out to schools to see if they would like to run this as a challenge with their students over the weekend,” Nick adds.

When and why take part?

While Rio and Nick will be doing their climb on May 9 at 8pm UAE time – so to respect anyone who might be fasting and would like to join in after iftar – the family has opened up the challenge to span the whole weekend, so people in other time zones can participate, too.

“We’re not telling people they have to start at the same time as us, but over the weekend please do something. It’s great for people to climb, but even if they do just have 15 minutes to join in and think about what we’re doing and about this little boy on my back, who will be smiling and laughing and telling daddy to go quicker, that would be fantastic.

“It’s going to be magical, and we just want people to be a part of that.”