Ex-rugby international joins 2016 Jagged Globe Everest expedition
When injury ended Richard Parks’ international rugby career for Wales, it seemed the cruelest of blows. Years of focused training were over; a recurring shoulder problem had cut his dreams of a professional rugby career short.
‘I was scared and angry,’ Richard told me. ‘I fell into a depression.’
It would have been easy to sink into bitterness and self-pity but Richard knew this was a pain barrier he had to punch through. He came up with an ambitious plan to re-invent himself as an extreme endurance athlete, learning a new set of skills as a mountain climber and polar explorer. It was a brilliant move, inspired by a refusal to simply give up.
As Richard says, ‘So often in life our toughest times unlock performances and attributes we never dreamed of’.
He went on to complete the famous seven summits challenge AND reach the North and South Poles all in a period of six months ... a record which is not likely to be beaten any time soon. As part of that amazing 737 Challenge, in 2011, he climbed to the summit of Everest, using supplementary oxygen. Later he went on to become the fastest ever Briton to ski solo from the coast of Antarctica to the South Pole, doing it in just twenty-nine days.
Now comes Richard’s biggest challenge to date ... a bid to reach the summit of Mt Everest without the use of supplementary oxygen; a feat that is rarely attempted even by the elite climbers of the high-altitude world.
His secret weapon? Four kilos of Jelly Beans! (That’s what makes me think he will succeed.)
Richard also has a scientific goal at the heart of his expedition (Project Everest Cynllun): to collect muscle tissue and blood samples on the summit as part of a cutting-edge scientific project led by the University of South Wales.
‘By climbing without the use of supplementary oxygen,’ Richard comments, ‘it will give us a never-before-seen snapshot into how the human body and mind copes with so little oxygen. This experiment has implications both in sport and other areas of human performance and will also add to the field of work researching the causes underpinning dementia.‘
Now, after eighteen months of preparation, Richard is in his acclimatisation phase, alongside us here in Nepal. He’s a great guy to spend time with and a lot of fun as a fellow team member!
He’s got a massive challenge ahead of him but all of us feel confident he will succeed.
Now break open the Jelly Beans will you Rich???!!!
Questions for class discussion:
1 How much less oxygen is there on the summit of Everest compared to what we normally breathe at sea level?
2 What might be the main dangers Richard’s body will face due to the fact that he is climbing without extra oxygen?
3 How does the human body adapt to thin air? Something changes ... but what is it exactly?
Richard Parks and his team in Namche Bazar. © Matt Dickinson
Matt and Richard Parks at the start of the expedition. © Matt Dickinson
Richard’s cognitive tests, which also form part of his scientific. © Richard Parks
Richard preparing for his expedition in the environmental chamber at the University of South Wales. © Richard Parks
View of Everest en route to Dingboche. © Richard Parks
Richard above Dingboche. © Richard Parks