50 steps was all it took for school pupils to experience the effects of altitude on their bodies. On the 26th June 2019, I was given the opportunity to help raise awareness about the effects of altitude alongside a wonderful charity called Para-Monte. We were invited to the eighth annual Big Bang Fair, which invited over 10,000 secondary school students from the region, to provide information about many STEM (Science, Technology, Engineering and Maths) areas of expertise. It was a great honour to help spread the word about altitude and increase the reach in which Para-Monte has on the public to allow individuals to understand the dangers of altitude; a message at the forefront of Para-Monte’s vision due to the tragic loss of the founders’ son (Adam Savory) in 2012 due to an altitude-related incident.

We pitched up in the infamous pink gazebo which was “base camp” for me (right in photo) and 4 others – Jeannet Savory (co-founder of Para-Monte, centre in photo), Emma Savory (Jeannet’s daughter and Para-Monte trustee), Dr Neil Maxwell (Reader at the University of Brighton, Head of Environmental Extremes Lab and Para-Monte trustee) and Serdar Hussein (MSc Applied Exercise Physiology Student, left of photo). Throughout the course of the day we had around 200 students completing 50 steps while wearing a hypoxic mask that restricted air flow into our willing participants’ lungs. We then encouraged the students to think about how they felt while we provided simple physiological assessments (heart rate monitoring and peripheral oxygen saturation via a pulse oximeter), showing them how they responded to the task. The masks seemed to be effective as we witnessed heart rates > 190bpm and oxygen saturations ~ 90% and sometimes closer to 80% in some pupils. These values some university students struggle to see in the altitude chamber back at the Welkin Human Performance Labs of the University of Brighton. So, it was great to see it first hand.

Following this, the pupils were asked to write something down on a post-it note they had learned from the experience and visit to the Para-Monte stand and add it to our mountain poster board. They were then given a sweet for their participation, but this was no way used as a bribe to get students to take part. Seeing others with an interesting mask on was enough to draw attention for plenty students passing by. 

Responses from the students included things such as:

“I feel like I am breathing a lot quicker than I normally do”

“I couldn’t breathe properly with the mask on”

“Wow my heart rate has never been that high before”

“I did not realise we can simulate altitude without being there”

“Can we keep the mask?” – We said no of course.

“I feel slightly dizzy”

This was a fantastic opportunity to work alongside a charity that was set up following such a sad loss. By raising awareness the charity keeps the spirit of Adam going which shows from the passion that comes from those close to him and through the work that the charity does. Being a part of that, even for a day, gave me a sense of pride for what I was doing and made me put 100% into every talk I had with those students. The work that Para-Monte does will always have an impact on individuals that come into contact with the charity and their key message “Prepare and be altitude aware” will continue to spread and will reach the top of any mountain.

Perry Swann

MSc Applied Exercise Physiology Student