How climbing helped a troubled teenager find the right path in life
Adam Raja had a Sliding Doors moment at 18: after spending a childhood just outside Glasgow that was blighted by racism, gang life and violence, he was accepted into university. “I cried when I got the letter,” he says. “It gave me everything, and it eventually led me to the outdoors.”
The son of a Pakistani father and Scottish mother, Raja had struggled with his identity as a kid. “My sister and I experienced lots of racism. I was punched walking home from school. I was sensitive, and I’d hide inside.
“But at high school, I realised being shy wasn’t helping. I thought if I leaned into the gangs, it would make life easier. To an extent, it did. After I joined, the average kid wouldn’t give me abuse. I was around criminals, but I finally had some acceptance.”
How college got him back on track
He soon hit trouble, though, being sentenced to a year in a youth offenders’ institute after being caught with drugs. “The lowest point was when my little nephew came to visit,” he says. “I could see a similar path ahead for him, and it made me feel like a failure. I wanted to be a good role model.”
That wasn’t simple, though. Once released, Adam couldn’t find work. “I’d written myself off,” he admits. But his student girlfriend encouraged him to apply for college, and he was accepted to study business and marketing at Glasgow Caledonian University in 2012.
“Suddenly, I had exposure to different people, and that broadened my mind,” he says. “I did an international exchange, and I got a job at the university.”
Discovering the mountains on his doorstep
Then, on Instagram, Adam saw a picture of Buachaille, one of Glencoe’s most imposing peaks. “I thought it must have been in Iceland! But it was two hours away. I thought, ‘I have to see it for myself.’”
To have mountains on your doorstep but not visit them is not unusual, he feels. “People in Cumbernauld didn’t go to the mountains. There were a lot of barriers…