In preparation for the South Pole Race I learnt a lot about Shackleton, Scott and Amundsen, the polar explorers who carved those first trails into the ice in Antarctica. Their stories inspired and excited me, but I never felt like an explorer during the race. They were the first, the pioneers – that was their privilege, their courage, their sacrifice. They dared to chart the unknown world for the rest of us to follow in their tracks. I, and everyone who came after them, have simply been adventurers on a different type of quest.
Over the last few months I have begun to make sense of the irony of where I find myself now. The moment I fell and was left paralysed everything changed. No matter how much I fight against it, it has. Forever. When I raced to the South Pole I was an adventurer, now I am not. My ability to compete on merit in adventure races is gone. Being blind and paralysed, I can’t pull my weight on the team anymore. If I dwell upon what I have lost too much, it could break me. Instead I see the irony of my new blind and paralysed self. My identity as an adventurer is gone, yet I closer to the polar explorers than I ever was while skiing to the South Pole.
I roll to Trinity every day in my wheelchair and strap my paralysed legs into my robotic legs and I walk. I walk miles and miles of uncharted steps. Success is uncertain, maybe even unlikely. I walk miles and miles with Simon, my South Pole Race teammate, at my shoulder, taking time from his work and his family to accompany me, step after step after step, along the frontier of recovery. Behind us is a diagnosis of paralysis, ASIA A complete meaning – further recovery so unlikely that conventional wisdom suggests that it is not worth trying. In front of us though is that vast, uncharted world.
Of all the things I have ever done this has the greatest chance of failure over success. There is so much at stake – the rest of my life, my relationships, my emotional and psychological wellbeing. We don’t know where the cure is. Out there, somewhere, like the South Pole, I am making the most educated guess available in this world at this time and I am pointing myself in what we hope is the right direction. I say we, because this exploration requires and is taking global collaboration – those supporting me financially through runinthedark.org, the spinal cord injury organisations I work with, the scientists, doctors, the paralysed.
So, I am embracing that irony and this new identity – former South Pole adventurer, now paralysed explorer on a mission to find and connect people on the frontier of spinal injury recovery. I am exploring the effects of aggressive physical therapy and walking my injured body and using the great support I have to try to connect those working in science and medicine around the world. If not for me, for the millions of people like me around the world, trying to live in the spirit of those early explorers and believing that just because it hasn’t been found doesn’t mean that it won’t be.