Belfast Telegraph

Blind and paralysed polar adventurer Mark continues to inspire as he plans bike challenge

Mark Pollock training for the County Kerry challenge
Mark Pollock training for the County Kerry challenge
Mark competing in The Giant’s Causeway Coast Sportive with friend Simon O’Donnell
Holywood’s Mark Pollock reaching the South Pole
Mark Pollock and his partner Simone George giving a TEDtalk last year
Claire Williamson

By Claire Williamson

He was the first blind person to reach the South Pole - and 10 years on from that incredible feat Mark Pollock is continuing to defy the odds.

He has spent a large part of his adult life overcoming adversity. In 1998, at the age of 22, Mark from Holywood, Co Down, lost his sight.

Then, in 2010, just three weeks before his wedding, a fall from a second-storey window paralysed him from the waist down.

He fought back once again by starting the Mark Pollock Trust and has dedicated his time to searching for a cure for paralysis and to his own mission of walking again using a combination of therapies, including robotic legs.

This year, the explorer, who has taken part in ultra-endurance races, is turning his attention back to the thrill of sport and what it means to him.

On May 25 he will take on the Ring of Beara Cycle Kenmare in Co Kerry. It is 110 kilometres and he will take part in the challenge with his friend Simon O'Donnell using a tandem hand-bike.

It is a team built on trust, as it was when they took on the South Pole challenge.

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Mark explained: "I'm living with paralysis and I'm trying to find a cure for paralysis, so lots of my training continues to be in the robotic legs.

"About 24 hours a day of my life is focused on paralysis.

"But now, this is just sport - partly sport for staying fit and partly doing something with a teammate on a tandem.

"There will be a big bunch of people who will come down cycling with us. So, running in parallel with my efforts to find a cure for paralysis, it's back to what I like doing.

"The tandem hand-bike is the contraption that allows me to do something physical."

The pair estimate it will take them around five hours to complete the challenge.

Mark has been training for the event using a combination of his continued walking in his robot legs with electrical stimulation and seven sessions on the bike.

But he is most looking forward to getting outdoors and feeling the elements. To him, that's what sport is all about.

"My experience of sport has always been outside. I suppose sport to me is about the wind in your face, getting rained on, the smells of where you happen to be," he said.

"What I have done really since my accident has been in a controlled environment in a sports hall or in a lab."

Mark said he and teammate Simon were so close that their bond was almost telepathic.

"Simon is a very close friend, but he's in a special category of friend," he explained.

"We've done the South Pole race together and Simon has been my trainer throughout the rehabilitation from paralysis.

"We are now out on the bike. It's a level of trust that is akin to a family member. In a sports relationship, when it's really working well, you don't actually have to talk to each other much.

"You nearly just know what each other is going to do - it's like telepathic. That's what it's like with Simon."

Mark said anniversaries of events in his life are important and drive him on to keep aiming for what he can do next.

He continued: "I certainly don't think of myself as patting myself on the back in any way for anything that I've done.

"But I certainly do think in chunks of time. Anniversaries are quite important to me - 1998 was when I went blind and 2008 was when we signed up to do the South Pole race.

"Over the last year I've been thinking about the contrast from how I felt when I went blind to how I felt at the South Pole. It was huge.

"Now I have a new 10-year anniversary coming up, and that is from 2010 when I broke my back. So 2020 will be 10 years on from that and I feel like I want to have a major South Pole-style breakthrough in the search for a cure for paralysis.

"I am strangely conscious of these milestones and I think they give you something to aim for and something to go for."

To find out more, visit Instagram @markpollockexplorer or www.markpollock.com

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