Page last updated at 09:41 GMT, Thursday, 1 January 2009

Blind athlete completes training trek

Competitors with sleds
Competitors in the 200km training stage of the South Pole race

By Gráinne McCarry

A blind motivational speaker from County Down and his team mates have safely completed the 200km training stage of the Amundsen Omega 3 Race to the South Pole.

Mark Pollock is taking part in the race to mark the 10th anniversary of losing his sight. He is joined on his team southpoleflag.com by Norwegian explorer Inge Solheim and Dublin rugby coach Simon O'Donnell.

The race, which involves six teams navigating their way across 1000km of the Antarctic Plateau in freezing conditions while pulling a 70kg sled, is due to start a day late because of poor weather conditions.

It is now scheduled to begin on 2 January, but this depends on the level of visibility.

The teams had to successfully complete a 200km introductory stage of crevasse training in order to begin the main race.

Speaking to BBC News Online, by satellite phone from Antarctica, Mark said that despite the teams currently being confined to their tents due to a blizzard he felt that he was "in safe hands."

"We're just waiting for the plane that's taking us to the starting point to come and get us," he said. The starting point is a four to five hour flight away and the plane has to be able to land and take-off safely.

"This is the second white-out we've experienced so far and at the moment, there is no contrast between the sky and the land so we need to wait until the weather improves."

Antarctica

A white-out occurs when visibility is severely limited by snowfall and poor light from overcast clouds. When this happens in Antarctica, it is very hard to differentiate between the sky and the surrounding landscape.

"When we initially started off the weather was very cool and crisp, however, we entered a weather system just before Christmas and had two days of white-out," Mark said.

Simon O'Donnell and Mark Pollock
Simon O'Donnell and Mark Pollock are due to compete in the race

"One night the wind did get particularly strong and we were told the next day that if the tents hadn't been put up securely enough they would have blown away.

"The race has its dangers, but the organisers are making sure it's as safe as it can be - that's why we're in our tents."

The competitors spent a surprisingly sunny Christmas Day trekking, despite spending the previous two days making slow progress through their first white-out.

"Christmas Day turned out to be very sunny and bright despite the cold and it was definitely my best day so far," Mark said.

"We skied for 10 hours and made great progress.

"That morning, we were given a shot of brandy from the race organisers and our own individual piece of Christmas cake with a message from our families.

"It was a lovely touch and even though there were plenty of thoughts of home on the day we remembered how privileged we are to be here taking part in the race."

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