As Mark lay in hospital after his paralysing fall in 2010, he read The Brain That Changes Itself by Norman Doidge. The book is about individuals who have, through their injuries or their work or both, progressed neuroscience in really incredible ways. Mark began to see how he could use what he knew from his old life as an adventure athlete competing in what was uncharted terrain for a blind man, and apply it to his exploration of a cure for paralysis.
The Brain That Changes Itself recounts how we have learned that our brains and spinal cords are not static but plastic. And, that our neurology is capable of change, especially when we train it. Doidge writes about one expert’s work: “Merzenich told me, “Everything that you can see happen in a young brain can happen in an older brain.” The only requirement is that the person must have enough of a reward, or punishment, to keep paying attention through what might otherwise be a boring training session. If so, he says, “the changes can be every bit as great as the changes in a newborn.”
Mark’s reward is data. Data allows scientists around the world to learn from his injured body to better understand how to repair or augment the injured spinal cord. Data drives his each and every lab test and training session. So, as Mark and the team focus on fast-tracking a cure for paralysis we chart his performance regardless of the exercise type. It motivates him, the reward enhances the training effect and hopefully neurological repair and it informs the data driven demands of our research teams.
The following section is a timeline illustrating highlights of Mark’s Exploration story in images and videos.
I first met Mark while competing against him in the North Pole Marathon and was struck by his incredible spirit. To take on endurance challenges in places like The Poles, Himalaya and Gobi Desert requires great courage and mental strength. The fact that Mark completes these adventures after losing the use of his eyes and now his legs makes him truly remarkable.Sir Ranulph Fiennes
Mark was a speaker at National Geographic’s Extreme Explorers dinner in Davos in January 2016. His personal story and insights were incredibly powerful, and clearly had a profound impact on everyone in the room. He embodies the spirit, resilience and determination that are the hallmarks of what it means to be an explorer.Editor in Chief