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Richard Parks ready to take on the world

Carwyn Jones, Richard Parks and Roger Lewis
Richard Parks receiving a special badge from Wales first minister Carwyn Jones (left) and Welsh Rugby Union group chief executive Roger Lewis

By Richard Parks
Former Wales and Dragons forward

In the third of his BBC columns, Richard talks about his final preparations for his '737 Challenge' during which he aims to climb the highest mountain on each continent, plus reaching both the South Pole and the North Pole for charity - all within seven months in a bid to raise £1m.

The clock is now ticking towards 12 December when I fly to South America and then Antarctica on the way to the start of this most gruelling of challenges.

It's just mind-blowing to think how quickly the challenge has come round from conceiving it 15 months ago. I'm both scared and excited, but just want the whole thing to start.

I've done all the training now and I don't think I can do any more. I feel physically and mentally prepared for the challenge, which if successful will see me become the first person to stand on the continental summits and the poles in the same calendar year.

Richard Parks melting snow in the Himalayas
Melting snow in the Himalayas during training in October

The challenge consists of the South Pole, Mount Vinson (4,897m), Aconcagia (6,962m), Mount Kilimanjaro (5895m), Carstensz Pyramid (4,884m), the North Pole, Mount Everest (8,850m), Mount Denali (6,194m) and Mount Elbrus (5,642m).

If all goes to plan I'll be at the South Pole on 1 January and finish up at the top of Mount Elbrus on 31 July.

Over the last few months, and especially my final training on Cho Oyu in the Himalayas, I have developed this toolbox of mountaineering skills that will give me the best chance of success. But ultimately we are in the hands of mother nature and she could put a spanner in the works!

Since coming back from the Himalayas in October there has been no let up in attempting to boost my aerobic capacity. I competed in the Cardiff half marathon and then took part in the Cardiff Burn - a 10k run, a 42k bike and a 3k kayak. That was hard, but great preparation.

Everest would seem to be the biggest challenge but we have highlighted Denali as the toughest leg because in it's a brutal mountain in its own right

Richard Parks

But I did have a setback when I lost my training partner on a run on the Ogmore coastal trail. Unfortunately my dog Ben fell down a hole and broke his leg. He's feeling a bit sorry for himself but he'll be okay.

The last couple of weeks I have been trying to taper down the training and have given Kevin Morgan, the former Wales international full-back who is helping me train, something of a poser.

I told him I want to be fit and fat before I go! I want to maintain my fitness but also to go into the challenge carrying a bit of extra weight with a big intake of carbohydrates.

A lot of my energies have been put in to the packing and sorting my gear out. I have to pack bags now that will be air freighted on to Everest base camp. Packing for nine legs over seven months is pretty challenging to say the least.

Richard Parks
The Cardiff Burn - a 10k run, a 42k bike ride and a 3k kayak

And on the other hand is the charity. I recently visited the cancer day care centre which was a real humbling experience and gave me some real inspiration for my trip.

I have spent every penny I have and every waking hour of the last 15 months on this unique challenge because I am very serious about it and its integrity. I was very down after my rugby career was ended with a shoulder injury and this has given me something to focus on.

At half-time during the Wales v New Zealand international at the Millennium Stadium I was presented with a special badge by Carwyn Jones, Wales' first minister, and WRU chief Roger Lewis. To get the ovation I did from the 70,000-odd fans in the stadium was a real lift.

After leaving on 12 December I don't get much thinking time because I'll be in Antarctica on 14 or 15 December and straight into the challenge. The plan is we get to the South Pole on 28 December.

And that poses a problem because I will have to wait there until 1 January so it qualifies with the calendar year requirements of the challenge. That has been one of the logistical hurdles I've had to overcome and I will have to get a flight back on my own on a supply plane.

Then it's back to Mount Vinson on Antarctica and then on to Aconcagia in South America - the highest mountain outside the Himalayas.

The crux of the challenge is further down the line - the North Pole, followed by Mount Everest and then on to Mount Denali. The North Pole presents the highest risk of cold or frost injury, and every day we are battling the north pole we are missing a day acclimatising on Everest.

Everest would seem to be the biggest challenge but we have highlighted Denali as the toughest leg because in it's a brutal mountain in its own right. Extreme weather systems and I will be doing it at my weakest mentally and physically because I will be coming straight off Everest.

We are aiming to be on Everest in April and May. Statistically the highest summit success rate is early May and after that we are looking at four to six days to climb Denali.

The aim then is to reach the summit of Mount Elbris before 31 July.

Richard Parks was speaking to BBC Sport Wales' Richard Thomas

Richard Parks
Richard on the climb during his gruelling training expedition to Cho Oyu in the Himalayas in October

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see also
Parks dodges Himalayan avalanches
01 Oct 10 |  Welsh
Parks peaking for great adventure
17 Jul 10 |  Welsh
Parks hopes to reach his peak
28 Mar 10 |  Rugby Union
Everest photos 'confirm ice loss'
16 Jul 10 |  South Asia
Official height for Everest set
08 Apr 10 |  South Asia
Just how hard is it to climb Everest?
19 May 10 |  Magazine

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