IPF Client, Max Levene to become first person with a tetraplegic spinal cord injury to tackle Mount Kilimanjaro in his wheelchair


IPF Client Max Levene is aiming to become the first person with a tetraplegic spinal cord injury to reach the summit of one of the world’s tallest mountains, Mount Kilimanjaro, in his wheelchair this September, 14 years after he broke his neck playing rugby for his school.


The inspirational front row is endeavouring to raise £20,000 for the Inspire Foundation and the RFU Injured Players Foundation (IPF). The IPF is England Rugby’s official charity and supports players who have sustained a catastrophic spinal cord or acute, severe traumatic brain injury whilst playing rugby union in England. The Foundation also helps to prevent future injuries through research and education.


In the summer of 2009, aged 17, Levene set himself the goal of one day climbing Mount Kilimanjaro.  Four months later, he sustained an injury which left him paralysed from the chest down, reliant on full-time wheelchair use and the help of a 24-hour-carer. Undeterred by his life-changing injury, Max is preparing to fulfil his long-standing ambition as he tries to help others who have sustained spinal cord injuries and to raise awareness of what’s possible.


“I am determined to complete the mission I set before my injury, even if the challenge is now far greater,” he says. “Through raising awareness of this climb I really hope to show newly injured people that they can still lead full and active lives.   

“I want this trip to make a difference, so I’m raising money for two fantastic charities who have provided incredible support to me and my family and given us hope for the future.

The support of the RFU Injured Players Foundation made such a difference to my recovery and my life. They provide everything from immediate practical and emotional support for a player who has experienced an injury like mine, to help and reassurance for your family and long-term financial aid and specialised equipment.

“The IPF also puts a big focus on supporting players to return to education or work, and to take part in activities to be able to live life to the full.  They are a lifeline to those of us who have sustained this kind of injury and it’s reassuring to know they will be there to support us and our families for the rest of our lives.

The money I raise will help the IPF continue to fund important research into how people’s lives can be improved after injury, and also how the risk of these injuries in rugby could be reduced. 

“The Inspire Foundation is also a charity I truly believe in and recently became a patron for. It conducts research into spinal cord paralysis, some of which is jointly funded with the IPF, and is particularly interested in ‘here and now’ issues and how they can use the latest technology to improve the quality of life for those living with tetraplegia and paraplegia.

“Inspire helps to fund research projects like the Bionic Bladder, which aims to use neurostimulation techniques to control the bladder and bowel. This would allow people with continence issues to either prevent incontinence or empty the bladder or bowel at the flick of a switch. That would have incredible benefits for far more people than just those with spinal injuries, and we can help to make it happen.”


Levene’s Kilimanjaro expedition is the latest in a series of ventures Max has embarked on to inspire others since his accident. In addition to forging a career as an economist, Max’s quest for adventure has seen him complete a sponsored skydive, set up his own podcast and make a foray into the world of stand-up comedy. Or as Max refers to it with a wry smile, “sit down, stand-up comedy.’

Preparation for Kilimanjaro has begun in earnest, with Levene mid-way through a nine-month training plan including altitude training, which has been developed with the help of a personal trainer.


“I’ve been training four days a week around my 30-hour work week, as well as following a strict diet,” he explains. “I have lost 5kg in four months and am working on building my strength and aerobic capacity, recently using a powerbreathe device twice a day.

“It will take us nine days to complete the trip, battling not only the climb but also altitude and freezing conditions. These are especially tough as my injury means I have weakened lungs and struggle to regulate my temperature. I aim to push where I can but due to my limitations, I will rely heavily on my support crew to help me climb.”


The climb will be a team effort with a support crew made up of family and friends, including three school friends Harry Williams, Charlie Allen and Frankie Nevin. Max’s supportive fiancée has even agreed to postpone their wedding to enable Max to fulfil his goal.

Despite the life-changing impact of Max’s accident, he maintains a love for rugby and is an avid follower of the game.


“People often ask if I wish I’d never played the sport, and my answer is always no,” he says. “I wouldn’t have swapped playing rugby for anything, because of what the sport has given me.

“There are risks in everything you do in life, and actually the risks associated with playing rugby are much lower than they are for many other activities. Injuries like mine are thankfully extremely rare - it was an accident and unfortunately, I was one of the unlucky ones.

“Rugby has given me incredible friendships built through a special sense of camaraderie. I had a lot of angst as a youngster and rugby was a brilliant outlet for that energy and helped me build confidence as part of a team. I feel lucky to be part of the rugby community because it’s been so supportive. If my accident had happened doing something else, I wouldn’t have had access to the care and support that I did through the IPF, for which I am hugely grateful.”


If you’ve been inspired by Max’s story, you can support him in his Kilimanjaro quest on his GoFundMe page. Max is also keen to hear from any companies who would be interested in supporting his climb through the provision of equipment to reduce associated costs.


You can follow Max’s journey to the summit of Kilimanjaro on instagram @max_levene  and X @max_levene1 or his YouTube page.

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