An Update from Antarctica
Drama during the first week Scott-Amundsen Centenary Race to the South Pole.
“I would rather be a live donkey than a dead lion.” These famous words of Ernest Shackleton when he turned back short from discovering the South Pole, aptly describes a drama of 36 hours in the historic Scott - Amundsen Centenary South Pole challenge. It started when the expedition doctor was called out for a situation which turned out not to be serious at all and it ended with the emergency evacuation of a competitor.
A call was made early on day 5 of the race to Dr. Ian Davis, the Explore World Races exhibition doctor, for assistance. Frank Runge of Team Tri-National developed a condition during the night that led to severe vomiting. The GPS co-ordinates, which was given for their position, was not accurate and it took two expedition vehicles almost three hours to reach the team. They were eventually located in a treacherous snowfield with the expedition vehicles almost getting bogged down in deep and soft powdery snow.
Once they caught up with the team, it was established that Runge was fine and fit to continue with the race. Just by chance or through sheer luck, the rescue team ran into Marc Woods and James Mark, from Team British Blue / SlandenWoods. James was pitching their tent and signaled that they were in trouble. Marc was nowhere to be seen.
On their arrival Dr. Davis found Marc lying in the hastily pitched tent. He was struggling to breathe and it seemed that his physical condition had deteriorated. According to Dr. Davis, Marc was also slightly disorientated and very anxious. He had developed a life threatening Asthma condition and Dr. Davis realised that the situation was stretching their medical capacity in the field to the limit. After a quick consultation with Dave Martin, from Extreme World Races and expedition leader, it was decided to call a code red emergency situation.
The operational centre at Novo base was alerted with a satellite call and an emergency standby airplane was being readied for a mercy flight to evacuate Marc and to return him to Novo base where better medical facilities were available to treat the unfortunate competitor. Unfortunately, the pilot who was on duty had already flown his maximum hours for the day and take off had to be delayed until the next morning. Realising how serious the athlete's condition was, Dr. Davis decided to stay with Marc in his tent for the night.
To complicate matters a whiteout condition developed overnight. By morning it was clear that the rescue plane would not be able to land. The flight was delayed until visibility returned and a safe landing at the spot would be possible. The emergency plane with the sick athlete and his teammate was finally able to take off at about eight o’clock in the evening. Marc’s British Blue teammate, James Mark said: “I have decided not to leave Marc until he was safely back in Cape Town. It is a big disappointment for me but I will deal with the emotional stuff later, once this emergency is over.”
According to James the conditions they were experiencing was extremely tough and Marc’s physical condition began to deteriorate soon after the start. The cause might be the altitude of 3000 metres above sea level, the dry air and extreme cold. He said things might have taken a turn for the worse if the expedition doctor arrived on the scene an hour later. It might have been too late to save Marc. “It was clear to me that Marc was in a very sad state and I knew that I needed to get help fast. It was sheer lack or providence that the doctor turned up on his way back from another call at that moment. If he did not, Marc might not have made it”, James said.
Marc, who had his left leg amputated below the knee when he was just 17 after being diagnosed with bone cancer, is no stranger to hard work. He competed in Paralympics at Seoul, Barcelona, Atlanta, Sydney and Athens, scooping four gold medals, 12 in total. He also wrote the best selling novel, Personal Best.
Marc said he was devastated not being able to complete the race, but that he was encouraged by Shackleton’s famous quote. Sir Ernest Shackleton faced a similar crisis when he had to turn back when the South Pole was within reach of him, more than a hundred years ago.
In the South African camp, there seems to have been an improvement in Braam Malherbe’s chest condition. Unfortunately, it now seems that Peter van Kets, his teammate, is also developing chest problems. Peter has spent the past two nights coughing up phlegm. On day 6 Peter woke up with a swollen and uncomfortable face, which also could be caused by the altitude.
Despite their physical condition both team members are still in high spirits and very optimistic about finishing the race in a good position. Team SA decided to have a few shorter days in an effort to let Braam get some sleep. They only covered 22 kilometres on day 6. Usually they walk for 35 kilometres per day. “We are really in survival mode now. This is the hardest thing I have ever done. It is much more challenging than rowing across the Atlantic Ocean,” Peter said.
Braam Malherbe tweeted and said “its definitely the harshest terrain in the planet. Be part of our cause”. Malherbe is a Woolworths MyPlanet ambassador and Team SA is competing in The Race to the South Pole to create awareness on climate change.
The Norwegian team is still the overall leader of the field by approximately 80 kilometres. At this stage the Welsh Team, Mark Morgan and Billy Morris is in second place and maintaining a steady pace. Lying third is team British Green who has fallen back slightly. As the field is getting closer to the South Pole the temperature is steadily dropping and harsher conditions can be expected ahead.
Daily updates on the Scott-Amundsen Centenary Race to the South Pole can be seen on www.coldsweat .tv.
More about Discovery Health Discovery, as the Peak Performance partner of the South African team, will work with Professor Tim Noakes, the Discovery Health Chair of Exercise and Sports Science at UCT, to support the team to perform at the peak of their physical and mental capacity. Professor Noakes is available to do radio interviews on altitude and the effect it has on Braam and Peter. More about MyPlanet Braam Malherbe is the ambassador for MyPlanet. MyPlanet classifies Planets as organisations that focus on the improvement and protection of the environment and animals. Examples of Planets that Woolworths customers support to include SANCCOB, The Society for Animals in Distress, Endangered Wildlife Trust, EWT MyPlanet Rhino Fund, SPCA National Fund, Border Collie Rescue, FreeMe, National Horse Trust, Animal Anti-Cruelty League, WESSA and BirdLife SA.
For more information go to http://www.myschool.co.za/schools/myplanet
Urban Brew Studios Johannesburg-based production company, has obtained the film and media rights from ultra-adventure operators, Extreme World Races, for the toughest endurance race on the planet, the Scott-Amundsen Centenary Race to the South Pole. A film crew of Urban Brew Studios is currently in Antarctica filming this epic race.
Cold Sweat, a four-part documentary about the Centenary Race to the South Pole will be broadcast on SABC 3 during 2012.