Mark Pollack should be an inspiration to everyone.
Born in Northern Ireland he was beset with retina problems and was blind in his right eye by the age of 5. He spent all his young years avoiding rough team sports in an effort to save the vision of his left eye, but by the age of 22, in 1998, he was completely blind. However, whilst he was studying at Trinity College Dublin and before full blindness he became a champion rower and captain of the university rowing club.
Coming to grips with full blindness Mark was determined from the start that he would cope. “I just wanted to be independent again. I started to get the tools that might help me: my computer; my speaking clock; my watch; Larry, my guide dog,” he said and before long he had returned to rowing and won bronze and silver medals for Northern Ireland in the 2002 Commonwealth Games.
2003 saw him participating in and finishing RacingThePlanet’s Gobi March – one of their famous 4 Deserts’ events, a gruelling 7 day ultra-marathon. He ran the race with a sighted partner and raised tens of thousands of euro for the charity Sightsavers International.
On 10 April 2004, the sixth anniversary of his blindness, he competed in the North Pole Arctic Marathon.
In January 2009 he was part of a three-man team, with Simon O’Donnell and Inge Solheim, called South Pole Flag, which took place in and completed the Amundsen Omega 3 South Pole Race – an 800km race competing against the likes of Olympic medallist James Cracknell and his team-mate Ben Fogle. The training for this race was intense… (rte)
and the race itself involved two months of non-stop trekking in temperatures as low as -48 degrees, pulling a 200lb sled of provisions behind him. They took just over three weeks to reach the South Pole making Pollack the first blind man to have achieved this incredible feat. His disability hampered him and his team and created difficulties other teams didn’t have to think about – but not enough to quell their spirit.
“Any sporting thing I’d done before, there was always the element of ‘Sure that’s great, ‘cos Mark’s blind’,” he said. “I really felt that when I was talking to people about this race they were fascinated with Antarctica and the South Pole and it wasn’t about the blindness. It just felt like the adventure was a true adventure — and it took me away from my blindness.”
He followed the South Pole race with other physical challenges — including becoming the first blind man to co-skipper a boat in the 1,400-mile Round-Ireland Yacht Race in June of this year. Here’s a brief clip prior to the race (TeamDaft).
On top of all the extreme adventures that he challenges himself with, he has found the time to write the book ‘Making It Happen’, has established his own business and is an international motivational speaker.
And then… 2 months ago he fell out of a second floor window whilst visiting the Henley Regatta, splitting open his skull and rupturing an aorta, filling his chest with blood. He also broke his back in three places and has still not regained any feeling in his legs.
“I’m trying to think back to when I went blind,” says Mark. “I’m only two months into this and I’m not comfortable with it or probably not particularly dealing with it. Two months into going blind, was I thinking like this?”
On his blog Mark says: “But today I emerge from the haze and I know this is going to be a very long race. And I don’t know where the finish line is or what the prize is. The last couple of weeks were a test. Now running through my head is the great polar explorer, Sir Ernest Shackleton’s family motto: – By Endurance We Conquer.”
… and you wondered why I said we should be inspired by this man? He’s amazing and we wish him all the very best for the future. We will be waiting to write about his next big adventure challenge…