Jamie McDonald speaks of becoming Adventureman, and the thrilling fundraisers which formed the Superhero Foundation - raising money for sick children.
In his twenties, Jamie McDonald found himself at a crossroad. He’d saved up for a deposit on a house, had a thriving career as a tennis coach and had overcome a brutal childhood illness that threatened his mobility. However, when it came to buying the house that he’d saved for, he couldn’t do it, so he bought a bike and decided to cycle 14,000 miles to Bangkok instead. “I thought, there’s got to be more to life.”
Part of his motivation came from having reconnected with the hospital where he was treated as a child. He had a spinal condition called syringomyelia, but also struggled with a weak immune system, epilepsy and problems with his legs and, for a time, had feared he would be confined to a wheelchair for life. Once he got his mobility back, there was no stopping him: “I was like a dog with a bone. I kept moving even though I was really sick and finally, all my symptoms disappeared.”
Nevertheless, even with his health restored, a journey to Bangkok presented problems. First, he bought a terrible bike, which was horribly uncomfortable. Then there was the route which took him through some tough territory: he was shot at on the Afghanistan border and arrested by the Chinese.
However, he returned safely – eventually – and had raised £20,000 for the hospital that had treated him as a child. The hospital got a new playroom and Jamie started to feel like he may have found a calling. He says: “It proved to be the beginning of a journey. At the time, I had no sense that I could make a living out of it. I just had this sense that I wanted to do more and have adventures. As soon as I got back from the 14,000 mile journey, I was planning my next adventure.”
His next challenge was on a static bike, where the scenery may not have been as good, but there was less chance of being shot. He attempted a Guinness World Record, doing ten days non-stop cycling. For every hour he cycled he could earn a five minute break, but it still meant a 1.5 hour sleep cycle for the whole period of the challenge. It took a physical toll. In particular, the sleep deprivation was infinitely worse than he had imagined. Nevertheless, he beat the record, which stood at 224 hours and 24 minutes – he finally stepped off the exercise bike after pedalling for 268 hours.
From there, the challenges became bigger and bigger. He became the first person to run the 5,000 miles (200 marathons) across Canada from the Atlantic coast to the Pacific coast without the aid of a support crew.
“I had no dependents at this time. I was flying solo. I had all sorts of problems, including a frostbitten nose, but I raised £500,000 for the kid’s hospital and I started to realise what was possible.”
In particular, he began to understand the importance of branding and how it could raise his profile, helping raise more money. He started a Facebook campaign to come up with an identity. After a few small hiccups with copyright, Adventureman was born and he was a fully fledged super-hero. “Someone even made me a suit!” He says. “A guy called Connor Redding had been following me on social media and made me my own superhero suit.”
With a significant following on social media, a track record in fundraising and his own suit, Jamie launched the Superhero Foundation, which raises money for sick children. He also wrote a best-selling book: Adventureman: Anyone Can Be a Superhero.
He continues to explore new ideas. Some are suggested to him by his followers, some are just from looking at a map. He’s also built a successful career as a motivational speaker, giving keynote talks to businesses and university students all around the world. However, he is still reluctant to call himself an entrepreneur, admitting that a few years ago he didn’t even know what the word meant.
Family life has slowed him down a little. His daughter Storm was born in 2020. “Small children can make adventures seem like a piece of cake,” he says. It has meant that he has to adapt his adventures rather than abandon them altogether. His most recent adventure was another world record attempt – running for seven days on a treadmill.
He still can’t quite believe it’s happening: “It’s been a dream – I didn’t realise you could do this.” He says the next chapter will be about sharing his adventure stories and helping people’s lives.