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ExWeb interview with Richard Parks, "it took pretty much every bit of physical and mental energy"

Posted: Dec 16, 2012 11:56 pm EST

(Correne Coetzer) On December 16th Richard sat in for a second ALE briefing in Punta Arenas this week; listening to the operations and logistics of a South Pole expedition. Earlier this week his solo ski from Hercules Inlet to the Pole was in the balance when he discovered most of his gear didn't leave London and therefore missed his flight to Antarctica.

Last year he was also in Antarctica; to climb Vinson and ski the last degree (110km) to the South Pole. This was as part of his 737 Challenge to become the first person to climb the highest mountain on each of the world's 7 continents and stand on the 3 Poles (Everest, SP and NP) within 7 months.

Now he is back to ski the full route from the coast to 90° South (1130 km). More relaxed than earlier this week, Richard says to ExplorersWeb Antarctica touched him deeply during the first leg of his 737 Challenge and has never left him.

All his food and gear, including a borrowed sled from ALE, has been loaded on the Ilyushin-76, ready for the confirmed early morning flight to Union Glacier, Antarctica, on the 17th.

ExplorersWeb: You have made a transition from rugby to adventure sport; climbing and skiing. Why and what did it take to do this?

Richard: In May 2009 I was forced to retire from professional rugby with a shoulder injury, this was an extremely low point of my life, I was frustrated, angry and scared as I hadn't achieved all I wanted to in the game and simply wasn’t ready to stop.

During that darkness and with some serious self-reflection I happened to be reading Sir Ranulph Fiennes’ book Mad, Bad and Dangerous to Know, which somehow became intertwined with a phrase from my Nana’s (grandmother) funeral ‘The horizon is only the limit of our sight.’ It had an immediate effect on me, helping me find the courage and inspiration to pick myself up and channel my energies into something positive.

I wanted to exorcise my demons and draw a line under that chapter of my life. The challenge and pleasure for me is being self sufficient in these extreme environments, I had no desire to be short roped anywhere! With the help of Jagged Globe, using my life savings and investing pretty much everything I owned in to a non-stop 18 months of preparation (10 of which I was on expedition and in a tent) and training, I began to develop my skill set.

My world first 737 Challenge evolved from simply learning the skills and hoping to attempt to climb the 7 summits over 3 years, with the input of sponsors and individuals that formed my support team and now have all become life friends, into much more.

The 737 Challenge started as a personal, introspective journey, however it ended up being a catalyst for so much more. It has been life changing.

In terms of what it took, pretty much every bit of physical and mental energy I had and also every penny I had. I’m very grateful to have been able to persuade a lot of people to help me, when many didn’t think I had a chance of completing the challenge. I’m very proud that with an amazing, but small team of volunteers working on the 737 Challenge, my sponsors, and the amazing support from the general public, together we were able to raise a huge amount of funds in aid of Marie Curie Cancer Care and create a world first.

It was important to me that the project had integrity and was holistic. 2 and a half years on, I am in a very different place. Although I’ve given everything to be here now, I feel so very grateful.

ExplorersWeb: Your 737 Challenge was intense activity from one mountain to the other and to standing on the ends of the earth. What have you learned from this challenge? Did you get more out of it than doing for charity?

Richard: I have learnt that life is better shared! Of all the things that you might assume I would’ve missed being on expedition non-stop for just over 6 months, it was the people that I care about and my dog that I missed the most.

The project wasn’t separated in my mind, the physical and charitable sides were equally important. I felt grateful to have the opportunity to see and experience the things that I have, without using that to help people less fortunate it would’ve just been selfish. It was paramount to me that the project had integrity and was holistic. Honestly, the last year working voluntarily to fundraise has been equally as challenging and rewarding.

ExplorersWeb: What was the most difficult part of this 737 Challenge?

Richard: So many parts!! At the start it was just trying to fund it, train for it, understand what it would take to complete it and once it was underway there were many tough moments. The jungle of Carstensz on the 5th leg was brutal; Everest the 7th leg was mentally tough, especially as I arrived there late from the North Pole.

I had very little acclimatization time and was pretty tired when I arrived at Base Camp, and being one of the last teams to summit was mentally challenging knowing we would only have one shot at it. All factors considered, Denali was probably the toughest leg.

Then there was the 18 months of fundraising after I got back. It’s been pretty relentless but incredibly rewarding.

ExplorersWeb: What attracts you about Antarctica that inspired you to decide to go back and do the full route?

Richard: Antarctica touched me deeply during the first leg of my 737 Challenge and has never left me, I feel very grateful and privileged to be able to go back.

I love Antarctica because it’s one of the few places left on the planet where there are large parts of it untouched by humans and that blows my mind, I love the wilderness and the hostility yet beauty of the continent and I am very aware of the history of the continent.

It means a lot to me to have the opportunity to undertake such a significant and challenging expedition from the coast to the pole. It is a huge privilege to return and hopefully become a small part of Antarctic history. Also it’s great to see the ALE team again! I just love it down there.

ExplorersWeb: What will keep you going across the endless horizons? Are there people who inspire you?

Richard: As tough as this expedition is going to be, I’ve worked bloody hard to have this opportunity and I am determined to complete it safely and successfully. As with all expeditions I am grateful to the support I have had to get here, I never want to let anyone down, least of all myself.

I guess I want to leave the world a better place than I found it and I have been blessed with the opportunity to earn a living doing what I love, and in the process being able to give back. There is no reason to stop. My parents are my biggest inspiration, however I take inspiration from anyone who has the courage to follow their dreams and passion and step outside their comfort zone.

Place of residence: Wales, UK
Family: Girlfriend
Work: Athlete
Favorite book: That’s tough, I have a lot. Maybe the Celestine Prophecy.
Favorite movie: That’s tough again…my top 3 changes regularly but probably: Apocalypto, Braveheart and Untouchable
Best expedition/adventure/accomplishment: Hopefully solo Hercules Inlet to Pole Antarctica! / my 737 Challenge / coming home safely each time & representing my country.
Dream destination/activity: Anywhere doing anything with people I care about.

The Hercules Inlet route starts at 80°S and covers a distance of 1130 km to the Geographic South Pole at 90°S.

Gateway port Punta Arenas, Chile, South America:
To ALE/ANI base camp, Union Glacier
(79° 45'S, 083° 14'W).

This expedition (and other expeditions / adventures / projects with RSS feeds) can be followed in the live Dispatch stream at the Pythom App for iPhone/iPad and on Android as well as at ExplorersWeb.

ExplorersWeb Expedition List


Antarctic roundup: Solo ski crossing underway; Vinson summits

Richard Parks' website

Richard Parks on Twitter

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#Polar #topstory #interview

Hotel Condor de Plata in Punta Arenas decorated for Christmas and Richard ready to take one step at a time during his new challenge. "[Antarctica is] one of the few places left on the planet where there are large parts of it untouched by humans and that blows my mind, I love the wilderness and the hostility yet beauty of the continent," he says to ExWeb.
Image by Correne Coetzer ExplorersWeb courtesy ExplorersWeb, SOURCE
Richard taking weight off the food packaging; every gram adds up in his sled.
Image by Tracy Pinder courtesy Richard Parks, SOURCE