|Representing Northern Ireland|
Mark Pollock (born 1976) is a Northern Irish adventurer, athlete, rower, kayaker, author and international motivational speaker from Northern Ireland who became the first blind man to reach the South Pole. As part of a three-man team called South Pole Flag, alongside Simon O'Donnell and Inge Solheim he took just over three weeks in January 2009 to complete the Amundsen Omega 3 South Pole Race to his destination. Pollock admitted his disability had slowed him down but they finished fifth overall from six teams. He participated against nine other teams, including that of BBC personality Ben Fogle and the Olympic gold medallist James Cracknell, a friend of Pollock. An avid rower Pollock has won bronze and silver medals at the 2002 Commonwealth Games in Manchester, England and has also written a book titled Making It Happen.
Early life and background
Pollock was born to Barbara and Johnny in Holywood, County Down. He had been having problems with both retinas since he was a child. When he was five years old, he lost all sight in his right eye, with the rest of his childhood being spent attempting to avoid rough team sports, to preserve the vision in his left eye. He studied Business and Economics in Trinity College, Dublin, where he became a champion schools rower and captain of the university's rowing club. The college later awarded him an honorary degree following confirmation of his blindness.
Pollock has been fully blind since the age of twenty-two in 1998 when his retinas became detached partially due to the injury he had previously sustained. When he woke up in his hospital bed he realised that he could no longer see and also learned of the signing of the Good Friday Agreement, a fact he heard from a radio located in the nurses' station. The Agreement's signing uplifted him but he did not fully realise the extent of his injuries as he had bandages over his eyes. Two months later he found out that he would never see again. This had a devastating effect on him as he believed at the time that blind people could not have a life which he perceived as normal – that they could not participate in sport, work, study, socialise or date. Before his operation he had been about to embark on a city job in London, UK but after it was left with no option but to return home to his mother.
Pollock then enrolled in a course to help him cope with his newfound blindness. He left for Dublin with his guide dog Larry and began putting himself forward for job interviews. Prospective employers were uncertain how to approach him. Eventually the father of one of his college friends assigned him to organising corporate entertainment. He returned to rowing and won bronze and silver medals for Northern Ireland in the 2002 Commonwealth Games. He engaged in other athletic pursuits, including running six marathons in seven days with a sighted partner across the Gobi Desert, China in 2003 when he raised tens of thousands of euro for the charity Sightsavers International. On 10 April 2004, he competed in the North Pole Arctic Marathon on the sixth anniversary of his blindness. The tenth anniversary coincided with the tenth anniversary of the Good Friday Agreement which brought constant reminders of his condition.
He is now a company adviser based in Dublin. Uncertain over whether to make the trip to the South Pole and concerned over the impact of sastrugi on his blindness, Pollock consulted with the explorer Pat Falvey who had completed the journey eighteen months previously.
Pollock wrote Making It Happen to detail his struggle with blindness and his attempts at rebuilding his life. This included running numerous marathons, kayaking across the Irish Sea, establishing his own business and becoming an international public speaker. It can only be bought online from his website.
South Pole trek
The trek cost Pollock around €250,000. His training included spending five hours in June 2008 pounding the streets with his father, dragging two tractor tyres behind him and spending time in Norway to acclimatise himself to the sastrugi. Pollock, O'Donnell and Solheim travelled 770 kilometres over twenty-two days, averaging fourteen hours journey time each day, whilst lugging 90 kilo sleds behind them. He pulled a 200lb sled for at least twelve hours each day, for a consecutive forty-four days. His blindness slowed his team down and created difficulties such as pitching their tent, which had to be carried out by O'Donnell and Solheim. Temperatures dropped as low as −50C during the expedition, with the team suffering from blisters, hunger and extreme exhaustion. O'Donnell endured severe frostbite on one ear and fingers and Solheim lost a filling from his tooth due to the extreme temperatures. Pollock told the Irish Independent that they "just can't believe" they had arrived and that they "only started to believe it was possible when we were one hour away, which was an amazing feeling". He described how they did not know what to do when they arrived, describing "such a burst of energy" that had engulfed them.
Pollock returned to Ireland on a 3 February 2009 where he was greeted at Dublin Airport, although he was delayed by the extreme weather conditions which gripped Dublin that week. He is now working on another book about his participation in the race. Pollock's father has also mentioned other challenges his son intends to partake in, including “kite skiing, whatever that is" although he hopes he will do "something easy like a few marathons instead".
In July 2010 Mark suffered a tragic fall from a second story window. He broke his back and was left paralysed. Mark is now living his own lessons, deciding how to overcome this second blow. A pioneer, he is exploring the frontiers of spinal cord injury recovery through aggressive physical therapy and robotic technology.
- "Blind Irishman completes arduous journey to the South Pole". Irish Independent. 28 January 2009. Retrieved 6 February 2009.
- "Setting his sights high". Irish Independent. 27 June 2008. Retrieved 6 February 2009.
- "Staff should 'live the brand' for companies". Irish Independent. 1 March 2006. Retrieved 6 February 2009.
- "Blind man returns from polar adventure". The Irish Times. 4 February 2009. Retrieved 6 February 2009.
- "Don't make excuses – make it happen!". Irish Independent. 1 March 2007. Retrieved 6 February 2009.
- "Tubridy Tonight line-up is revealed". RTÉ. 6 February 2009. Retrieved 6 February 2009.