independent

Sunday 20 April 2014

Blind Irishman completes arduous journey to the South Pole

Mark 'on the sphere' at the ceremonial marker for the South Pole with race organiser Tony Martin

AN Irish adventurer has overcome some of the toughest terrain on the planet to become the first blind man to reach the South Pole.

In an epic voyage, Mark Pollock (32) trekked across hundreds of miles of ice and snow in sub-zero temperatures, following in the footsteps of legendary explorer Ernest Shackleton.

The Dublin-based company adviser, who has been blind since he was 22 when his retinas became detached partly due to an old injury, was part of a three-man team called South Pole Flag, which took just over three weeks to complete the arduous race.

Challenges

Mark and his teammates, Simon O'Donnell and Inge Solheim, travelled 770km over 22 days, averaging 14 hours journey time per day, while lugging 90kg sleds behind them.

They finished fifth overall, having endured much greater challenges with Mark quick to admit that his disability had slowed them down.

Speaking to the Irish Independent from the South Pole, Mark said the whole team were "over the moon" with their achievement.

"I think the main feeling is that we just can't believe we are here," he said.

"We only started to believe it was possible when we were one hour away, which was an amazing feeling.

"When we arrived we didn't know what to do with ourselves. We had such a burst of energy that we weren't tired at all.

"The biggest issue for us was definitely the fact that I am blind.

"It made it tough for things like putting up the tent because it would take too long as I had to rely on the other guys to do it all the time, so that put pressure on them."

Temperatures fell as low as -50C during the expedition and the team suffered from blisters, extreme exhaustion and hunger.

Simon was the victim of severe frostbite on his ear and fingers and Inge lost a filling from his tooth due to the cold. But all three men were in high spirits after reaching their goal and Simon's frostbite is under control, Mark said.

The Holywood, Co Down, native revealed that he had been uncertain before the trip as to whether he could make it.

He said he had consulted with explorer Pat Falvey, who completed a similar trip 18 months ago, before embarking on the arduous journey.

"Before leaving I had huge doubts over whether I could do it or not," he said.

Fear

"I went to see Pat last April to talk to him about sastrugi, which are waves of snow, because they were the big fear due to my blindness.

"But by day four or five, it was clear that they would not be a factor."

Mr Falvey congratulated Mark and the team for their achievement last night.

"A trip like that on that terrain takes great tenacity, belief and commitment," he said. "Working with Mark in his training before he left, I found him to be an amazing person."

Mark added: "I think what I've done is explored whether it is possible or not possible for a blind man to reach the South Pole and I have discovered that it is."

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