What can I say? Justin is a legend. The first ever Esc Hero, the first ever Esc speaker, and potentially the first man to do an unsupported South Pole return...
I'm currently preparing to head South later this year with my expedition partner, John Wilton-Davies, to attempt to be the first people to walk from the coast of Antarctica to the South Pole and back. Once completed, the trek will also be the longest unsupported polar journey in history.
The last person to get close to achieving what we're attempting to do was Captain Robert Falcon Scott who, along with his team, gave their lives in the process back in 1912. The expedition is about far more than just two guys walking across a frozen continent; we're also involved with initiatives and programmes in education, health promotion, and fundraising for the British Heart Foundation.
On a day-to-day basis I feel like a hamster on a supercharged wheel getting ever faster as our departure date looms! Searching for sponsors, working with sponsors we already have, organising marketing, talking to the press, other PR activities, sorting the logistics of the expedition, working on the charity fundraising, the education project, the health promotion initiative, and trying to find some time in between all of those to eat, sleep, and train! When we started the project off, we both wanted to use the expedition as a vehicle for other causes.
To that end, we very quickly put the wheels in motion to start an activity based learning programme for schools. We've teamed up with a partner company in the private sector which runs the UK's only totally secure sub-sixteen social network and on-line education resource to offer our programme to schools nation-wide, and now the projects that we present are visible to around 9000 schools in the UK as well as some abroad.
Then we wanted to select a charity to work with, but we wanted to do more than just raise a few quid for the pot. We chose the British Heart Foundation because the BHF furthers a cause close to my heart (pardon the pun), and because there is a great deal of synergy with the expedition. As well as aiming to raise a seven figure sum for them, John and I have worked to develop a health and fitness initiative under the banner (our banner!) of the Great Heart Challenge.
Our aim, as megalomaniac as it may sound, is to help to make a positive change to children's long term lifestyle habits and reduce the massive death toll related to diet and inactivity related disease. The GHC is primarily an adventure themed health and fitness initiative aimed at children (you can read more about it on our website).
A unique collaboration of us, the British Heart Foundation, and partners in the private, public, and education sectors along with backing from media companies will see the Great Heart Challenge event promoted through around 38,000 UK schools later this year. We've also developed a very much adapted adult version which is being run through the national chain of Spirit Health Clubs (part of the Intercontinental Hotels Group).
To cover the 'greenie' angle, we offered ourselves up as a promotional vehicle to the Torquay based Living Coasts project, an international coastal environmental and conservation project. It's not just a 'lip service' effort, we do actually get quite involved with the Living Coasts crew, and we'll be posting some 'interesting' news on the website soon about a deeper relationship with them (and I LOVE the fact that when we first went to visit, a young penguin waddled up and took a hefty bite out of Johns leg!).
Once all of that's over, I sleep a little and train a lot.
Before I did this, I did other stuff! I've had a life-long connection with the fitness industry, but in the last few years moved out into commercial finance brokerage and internet vehicle brokerage.
My connections in the fitness industry never really stopped; instead of working on a face to face level I 'kept my hand in' by writing in various publications, speaking about fitness-related issues, and running training courses for aspiring fitness instructors.
There are two answers to this question. When I was four, I lived in a 'proper' village in Devon. I can vaguely remember a chap from the village heading off to climb Everest, but unfortunately he died in the process.
I can remember all of the adults talking about it at the time and me thinking "Wicked, I want to do that when I grow up" - become an explorer or adventurer I mean, not die!
The second answer is that I re-lived the dream from a hospital bed in 1999. A rather nasty car accident brought my career to a very abrupt end: I suffered brain injuries which meant that, for a while, I was unable to walk or talk properly.
I talked like a toddler just learning to form his mouth to create slightly more understandable sounds than the usual baby twaddle, and as for everything else, well, imagine facing an obstacle course with a 5'7" pillar of jelly on a plate - you know where you want to go, you just can't quite work out how to make it do what you want it to.
During my recovery there were LONG periods of inactivity, and there's only so much Richard and Judy that anyone can take, brain damaged or not, so I would close my eyes and think back over my life. It was then that I stumbled across my childhood dream of becoming an adventurer hidden somewhere in the dark recesses of my mind.
As I relived the dream, I realised that if others could do it, then so could I. I turned my dream into a tangible objective with a defined timescale, set physical goals as marker posts, then set about re-building my life and turning my dream into a reality.
The third of March 2009 was the tenth anniversary of the car crash that changes so many things in my life, and the date that I'd set as the timescale to give up whatever I was doing and pursue my dream. For a few nights, or weeks leading up to the 3rd I was having sleepless nights as I tossed and turned trying to decide what to do.
The recession was hitting the young business in a big way, reducing vehicle sales, bringing finance to a virtual stop, and then re-debits on top of that. It wasn't a good time, but quick footwork and long hours in the office were keeping us alive. It was tough, but we were getting there when others around us were vanishing at an alarming rate.
On the third I woke at about 4.30am, went downstairs, made a coffee, sat out in the garden with the dogs and in a moment of extreme clarity said out loud "Screw it - do it".
An internet search of expeditions threw up John Wilton-Davies, we met for a quick coffee in Exeter and decided to attempt this expedition as a two man team. I signed my business over to my partner, let go of the reins, and haven't look back ever since (ok, maybe that's a lie, but you get the drift!)
We started the planning process about a year ago, and like all the best laid plans, they evolve and change as time goes on. The expedition itself hasn't changed at all, that's our constant, but the activities and projects surrounding it change and grow on an almost daily basis.
Planning really isn't my forte, can you tell by the first short answer?! We're attracting sponsorship and financial support in a variety of ways. Firstly, for the expedition itself, we're attracting equipment sponsors - companies in the field who want us to be seen using their products. We are also looking for 'headline' sponsors - companies willing to make a substantial investment and put their name to the expedition.
John and I would like as many people and businesses as possible to get involved with the expedition, so, to encourage smaller investors we have two 'package deals' available for fixed investments (details on the website; look for 'Patriot Club' and 'Base Camp').
The Great Heart Challenge is being handled largely as a separate issue, and we've only just started addressing the issue of sponsorship for it. We're looking for one, or maybe a few sponsors who would like to associate themselves with a national children's health and fitness initiative.
Did that sound like a cheap sales pitch? Probably!
That depends on the day that you ask me!
My Grandfather had suffered a stroke, or series of strokes. Things weren’t going well for him but I would visit as often as I could and on the good days he’d chat to me for hours, telling me about the ‘good old days’ (everyone seems to have fond memories of their grandparents doing that – it must be a fashion thing!).
On not-so-good days we’d just sit in uncomfortable silence; sometimes I don’t think he even realised I was there. It was some time in November I think, not long before his passing, when he said the most profound thing to me.
A statement, one sentence, which I have never forgotten. I sat there one afternoon, next to his chair with the low sun shining brightly through the trees outside the window. It was a quiet day. I’d heard mumblings from my parents that the outlook was looking bleak so I was quite choked and struggling to make conversation.
Without warning, Grandad turned his gaze from the window, put his hand on the back of my head, looked at me and said in an unusually clear voice “Just, don’t ever aspire to be average”.
If you never try, you'll never know.
The web! I have NEVER used the internet so much - it's brilliant!
An educational resource for learning things about what we're doing and research into how to affect change, our http://www.justforthechallenge.com/">www.justforthechallenge.com website, social networking sites like Facebook and Twitter, and of course, Escape the City!