Richard Parks’ 737 Challenge is a race to climb the highest mountains on each of the world’s continents and venture to the South and Geographical North Poles. If successful, he will become the first person to stand on all seven continental summits and all three poles in one year. WideWorld spoke to Parks via satellite phone on the eve of his summit attempt of Aconcagua in South America.
Richard Parks was a professional rugby player, representing Wales and The Barbarians, but after multiple injuries, at the age of 31, he was forced into early retirement. Faced with frustration, despair, and a fear of an unknown future, Parks found inspiration both from a book he was reading by British explorer Sir Ranulph Fiennes, and from a line that was read out at his grandmother’s funeral: “The horizon is only the limit of our sight.” Parks says it helped him regain the courage to face his fears – and his future.
“I’ve learned that our lives will always be made up of many chapters,” Parks said. “We can never go back and we cannot foresee our future, however, we can take charge of how we choose to live and what we think right now in the present.”
With the help of Sir Ranulph Fiennes and sponsorship support, Parks’s 737 Challenge was born: he would attempt something that had never before been done: climb the highest mountains on each of the world’s seven continents, and venture to three Poles – all in seven months.
The challenge aims to raise £1m for the Marie Curie Cancer Care charity, which provides free private nursing care for terminally ill people.
“Cancer has played a big part in my family,” Parks said. “My father is a cancer survivor and my uncle was a victim of cancer along with other family members and friends. It was an obvious decision for me to pick a cancer charity and I particularly liked the work of Marie Curie Cancer Care. It is a simple philosophy that it costs only £20 to fund a nurse to provide support in the home for a terminally ill patient. So every penny we raise will make a significant difference in the lives of many people. I think it is important that we all try to give back a little bit. I am just fortunate to have the opportunity to do this. I really think I am the lucky one.”
Parks has proved that years of experience are not required to embark on great expeditions. Before 2009 Parks had never even climbed a mountain. He spent the past two years training for the challenge and developing boundless mountain and polar skills. With the help of Jagged Globe and Kevin Morgan, the former Welsh International fullback, Parks endured a grueling training regime of fitness tests and summiting peaks in the Himalayas, Mt Blanc and Denali.
“Life on a mountain is challenging in many ways,” he said. “For me, the toughest challenge will be staying healthy for seven months and maintaining a diet to balance my energy exertion. You have a responsibility to leave these places in the same condition that you found them. In addition to simply summiting the mountains, you must carry your own toilet, food, clothing, fuel and tent. The challenge is also very much a mental game. You are in your own thoughts for long periods of time which is challenging in itself. You haven’t experienced in training expeditions the mentally challenging factors, aside from the physical demands of climbing.”
Parks will be scaling summits, skiing across poles, combating hostile environments, swimming between icebergs and battling unimaginable weather conditions. On various legs of the challenge, he will be joined by double Olympic gold medalist Steve Williams, OBE, ‘greatest living explorer’ Sir Ranulph Fiennes and Marie Curie Care nurse Janet Stuart.
“These three people are truly inspirational,” Parks told WideWorld. “They are what we would call a ‘Great’ Britain. For me, they are remarkable characters and it will be great to embark on different legs of the challenge with them. We have all become friends and I’m looking forward to seeing them.”
The completion of the challenge requires an arduous schedule in order to summit all seven summits and three poles within the seven month time frame. Thus far, the estimated schedule has been attainable and Parks remains confident that the expedition will continue to successfully move through each summit and pole.
“I am respectful of every leg of this challenge. I think being used to pushing my body to its limits has helped me prepare for this but ultimately Mother Nature and the weather control everything.”
Parks is pioneering through day 60 of the Challenge and has now completed leg 3 – the summit of Aconcagua in South America. Mount Kilimanjaro of Africa is Parks’ next endeavor as he moves to leg 4 of the Challenge.
“After I’m done, I will carry with me for the rest of my life that we have the ability to make the most out of any situation and we are in control of our own destinies. I gained more from this challenge than I could have dreamed. It has surpassed all my expectations on many levels. I genuinely feel very privileged to have had this opportunity and am grateful to the companies that have sponsored me, individuals on my team back in Wales, and all those supporting me. They have made this Challenge possible.”
To follow Richard Parks’s challenge visit www.737challenge.com or @737Challenge