Page last updated at 07:37 GMT, Thursday, 15 January 2009

Blind athlete half-way to pole

Mark Pollock and his team mates have reached the half-way point
Mark Pollock and his team mates are heading south

By Gráinne McCarry

As his team reaches the half-way point of their epic race across the Antarctic Plateau, County Down's Mark Pollock is one step closer to entering the history books as the first blind Irishman to reach the South Pole.

Mark and his team mates, Simon O'Donnell from Dublin and Inge Solheim from Norway, skied through the night to arrive at the mid-way checkpoint just after midnight on Wednesday - just one day before the 11 day deadline for completing the 375km long section.

Speaking to the BBC Online by satellite phone from Antarctica, a tired Mark said that he felt "high on life" to be still in the gruelling race.

"It's really, really exciting to be here better than I could have hoped for," he said.

The historic Amundsen Omega 3 South Pole Race involves six teams navigating their way across 1,000km of the Antarctic Plateau in freezing conditions while pulling a 70kg sled.

At this stage, his team have to undergo 24 hours of compulsory rest before they set off on their quest to the finishing line.

Simon O'Donnell and Mark Pollock
We have to stop every two hours to eat and drink something and I just take my hands out of my gloves for 15 to 30 seconds to get my food out, they start going numb instantly
Mark Pollock

Mark said they were "resting, sleeping and eating" before skiing a further 375kms to the Geographic South Pole - and into the history books.

"We hope to set off at midnight again when the 24 hours are up. It means that we'll be skiing at night and resting by day, but we don't care about that. We're still in the race and that's all that matters," he said.

"The physical side is one thing. It's very tough. 12 to 13 hours a day. Our shortest day was 33.5km and our longest was 45.5km which is just over [the length of] a marathon.

"The mental side is another. Every single day I've worried about the distance ahead. Every single day I've wanted to stop. Every single day I've wanted to carry on forever. There are so many ups and downs you go through in the space of a day."

Mark said they were surviving by taking the race "one hour at a time," however, he did admit that he finds the compulsory break every two hours "quite difficult".

"We have to stop every two hours to eat and drink something and I just take my hands out of my gloves for 15 to 30 seconds to get my food out, they start going numb instantly," he said.

"When I lose my sense of touch, I can't feel my hands and have great difficulty putting them back into my gloves."

He added: "It just takes seconds out here for it all to wrong, to pick up an injury that could affect finishing the race. We want to avoid that. The last thing we want to do is to have to take two days out of the race due to something like a minor injury."

Normally sporting a shaved head and face, Mark is getting used to having a beard as well as a head of hair and it seems personal hygiene has also fallen to the wayside in these extreme conditions.

"I've been wearing the same clothes and underwear for the last 25 days. They're the same clothes I've been sleeping in. You don't know how bad you smell when everyone else smells the same," he laughed.

When asked what it feels like to wake up on Antarctica each morning, he simply said: "It just feels like every day is a true adventure."



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