Ulster fan is off to play rugby at the North Pole
David Mercer joins team on arduous trek for historic fundraiser at the top of the world
An Ulster rugby fan is on his way to the North Pole to play in the northernmost rugby game in history, in temperatures that could fall to minus 50 degrees.
Part of David Mercer's training has been to learn how to shoot any threatening polar bears that he might encounter on the way to the top of the world.
Bangor-born David is part of a 14-strong team, including an ex-British Lions star and former England and Leicester Tigers players, who are on a 100-mile, 10-day trek to the North Pole to raise money for disadvantaged children in the UK and Ireland.
Friends of the 45-year-old are urging Ravenhill regulars to stand up for this intrepid Ulsterman by backing the campaign to collect £300,000 for the Wooden Spoon rugby's children's charity.
Bad weather, especially a series of ferocious snow storms, delayed the start of the arduous journey from Resolute Bay in Canada to the Magnetic North Pole, which has only ever been visited by a few hundred people.
"It's cold, it's difficult, but not as difficult as life is for some of the youngsters we are trying to help" said David, who's an ambassador for Wooden Spoon and who played his last game of rugby 21 years ago.
Once they arrive at the North Pole, the hardy explorers plan to take part in a seven-a-side game of rugby, which they hope will earn them a place in the Guinness Book of Records as the participants at the most northerly venue ever to stage the oval ball game.
"It should be interesting to say the least, especially for me, because it is so long since I actually laced up a pair of rugby boots," said David.
"But we are all excited by the prospect of such an unusual game and the challenge which lies ahead of us en route to the North Pole."
David, who's a former Methodist College, Belfast pupil, is now chief executive of the award-winning LMAX Exchange company in London.
Though he now lives in England, David is still an Ulster Rugby season ticket-holder and returns home for games at the Kingspan stadium in Belfast as often as he can.
Other preparations for the team included how to deal with any deadly threats from polar bears.
"They do apparently pose a very real danger," said David.
Arctic explorer Jock Wishart is leading the expedition and David's colleagues include retired rugby stars Tim Simpson of England and Leicester Tigers, Ollie Phillips of England 7s and Gloucester, and Lee Mears of England and the British Lions, who will referee the North Pole match.
David added: "This is a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity to embark on a challenging expedition while raising money to help make a difference to the lives of disadvantaged children and young people."
In a recent blog, David said the team would be walking 10 hours a day in freezing conditions, eating only one meal a day and getting little sleep. He also wondered how he would cope with meeting a polar bear... and going to the toilet in the middle of the night armed with a spade.