From goosebumps to the South Pole
"I’d burnt 6,000 calories in one day"
About three years ago Richard Parks, once a Wales international rugby union player, completed a solo, unsupported and unaided cross country ski to the South Pole in just 29 days, 19 hours and 24 minutes, setting a new British record.
At the end of this year, though, ex-soldier and public speaker James Redden will attempt to beat Parks’ time, in the process helping charities Meningitis Now and Soundabout. The latter of these organisations is also who the 45 year old will be raising awareness of, and funds for, when – on 8th March – he begins a 350 mile ski across North Norway.
Soundabout was launched in 1995 to help people working in schools give young people with special needs the opportunity to make music. James first heard of the charity during “a random meeting” with Soundabout’s Jo Colton when he was out training on the Chiltern Hills (wearing a harness and pulling tyres along behind him).
“Jo told me a little bit about Soundabout,” he says, admitting then that at first he “didn’t quite understand the nature of what they did.” He was uncertain about how music therapy for disabled children and young adults worked. Accepting an invitation to one of the charity’s sessions, he was “absolutely blown away by the difference their work makes.” He witnessed “young people, some of them profoundly disabled” transform when the music started, leaving him “astounded”, and with “goosebumps” he still gets when he thinks about it.
During this time of government spending cuts, which James cites as “necessary but impacting on so many areas”, his 2017 skiing deeds are “primarily about awareness.” While he says he could raise thousands of pounds potentially, this would be “a one off hit.” But “by raising awareness, and getting the name of Soundabout and what they do out to the wider community, we could see more interest coming in from the outside – not just from individuals but from the corporates as well.”
James, also the owner of an IT consultancy, is currently working with one of the ‘five big tech companies’ on a custom app, so as to track all his health metrics as he attempts to break Parks’ record. In his capacity as a public speaker, James goes into schools to talk. The all-shiny technology linked to his upcoming 683 mile South Pole adventure should make for a presentation that is more than him just talking at schoolkids with the aid of a few pictures and a video. He believes if he can show them, for example, his heart racing, they’ll get a better idea of what was taking place out there.
What he has noticed from speaking to schoolchildren is that they “are far more educated now about the dangers of overeating.” Recollecting a talk he gave after returning from a North Pole ski, he says: “One of the kids put his hand up when he saw I’d burnt 6,000 calories in one day, ‘Wow. That means you could eat over three Big Macs a day and not get fat,’ he said.”
We discuss the food for the challenges he undertakes further. “I spent a lot of time in Norway, right up in the Arctic Circle,” James says of his time as a soldier. “The rations you’re given tend to be very high in sugars and fats to sustain the body in those environments.” For both his trips this year he’ll adopt the same approach diet-wise –“very fatty”, sugary eatables.
He is skiing solo, unsupported, and unaided to the South Pole, but never truly alone. GPS tracking and beacons should see him safe. A logistics company will be watching over his trip, supplying weather updates and relevant information to him, and will be prepared for an “emergency extraction if necessary.”
I ask how long he can keep up the level of activity he currently throws himself into. When he first started planning his North Pole expedition, he says, he made a ten year plan, “so I have a series of events over the next ten years that I’m going to complete. Then when I get to 54 I’ll look at what my body is still capable of, whether there are any injuries or issues that will slow me down or potentially make something non-viable.”
James is also a writer of fiction, but the obstacles young people with special needs, their parents and educators face are very real. Donate to Soundabout at soundabout.org.uk. You can track James’ skiing progress this year and give to his chosen charities by visiting facebook.com/NorthBySouth2017. More information is also available at jamesredden.co.uk.
Soundabout is New Theatre Oxford’s chosen charity for 2017
"As a live music and entertainment venue, Soundabout’s aim to give disabled children and adults a voice through the use of music, rhythm and sound is something we can both support and enhance. We’re excited to be working with this inspiring organisation and hope that audiences will join us in supporting them throughout 2017."
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