The superhuman challenge of skiing solo from the coastline of Antarctica to the South Pole in 40 days has proved too great for former Welsh international rugby hero, Richard Parks.
The Pontypridd born explorer has already made history by climbing the highest peak on each continent and travelling to all three poles within just seven months. This record-breaking 737 challenge was clearly not enough to satisfy the ex-rugby union star.
The Antarctic expedition was the second time Parks has faced the hostile weather conditions and extreme sastrugi (irregular snow ridges) near the South Pole. He was forced to abandon the solo ski mission after 39 intense days because of time constraints and unforgiving conditions.
“Although I am gutted, I am at peace because I know I have done everything in my control and it is the right decision. Of course I am bitterly disappointed because of all the time, effort, money and preparation my team and I have put into the expedition.”
Parks has revealed he was close to starvation for 40 days and has lost between 13 and 15kg, which equates to around two-and-a-half stone. He also suffered cold damage to his face when he removed his facemask in the -27C conditions.
He said: “I looked in the mirror for the first time at myself and it blew my mind. I didn’t look like myself.”
“I was pushing my body mentally and physically to the absolute limit during this expedition and I am now the weakest and lightest I have ever been. My body is incredibly run down and I have lost a significant amount of body weight.”
Richard was forced to retire from professional rugby in May 2009 because of a career ending shoulder injury. The former flanker made a name for himself as prolific tackler, earning caps against South Africa, Fiji, Scotland and Ireland. In his 13 years as a professional player, Richard was a crucial member of the Newport Gwent Dragons and represented the Barbarians and Wales Sevens during the World Cup.
The life-changing injury compelled Richard to reassess his personal goals. Sir Ranulph Fiennes’ book: ‘Mad, Bad and Dangerous to Know’, inspired him to design the pioneering 737 Challenge. At this point, Richard had never even set foot on a mountain. The gruelling challenge began in Cardiff Bay in December 2010 and Richard made history by completing this world first in 6 months, 11 days, 7 hours and 53 minutes.
Richard was able to keep his loved ones and loyal followers regularly updated during his latest mission using his Antarctica blog. He stressed how using this technology in the hostile environment was one of the biggest challenges he had to face. Richard was overwhelmed with the supportive messages he received from people in Wales.
“To receive so many messages of support makes such a difference. I am so grateful and proud to be Welsh and I am truly humbled by all the support.”
Richard remains positive and philosophical about the success of the expedition.
“As a younger athlete I thought success was black and white, but as I’ve got older I now realise there are many shades of grey in-between. This type of challenge is not for everyone, but I am privileged and grateful to come back to Antarctica.”
This expedition has formed a crucial element of the research and development for his next secret world first project, which is planned for 2014. The challenges Richard continues to set for himself act as a beacon of hope for anyone who has ever suffered a major set back.
Richard spent some time recuperating in Punta Arenas, Chile, but he has flown back to Wales in time for the Six Nations.