In preparation for the South Pole Race, I learnt a lot about Shackleton, Scott and Amundsen; the explorers who carved those first trails into the Antarctic ice. They were the pioneers—it was their privilege, their courage, their risk. They charted the unknown world, showing the way for the rest of us. 100 years on, I followed in their tracks as I became the first blind person to race to the South Pole.
Eighteen months after the race, a fall from a second story window nearly killed me. I broke my back and the damage to my spinal cord left me paralysed. Now I am inspired by the vision of another explorer, Christopher Reeve. I am travelling in his tracks.
Christopher Reeve dreamed of empty wheelchairs. He and his wife Dana were the hub around which new global collaborations formed with the aim of curing paralysis and they forged ahead with intelligence and ambition. Sadly Christopher died in 2004 from complications related to his paralysis before their ambition was realised; Dana died almost two years later from cancer. But the legacy they left us is strong. In a world that has failed to discover the cure for spinal cord injury, Christopher has shown me the way.
So now I roll to the gym every day in my wheelchair to explore the possibility of spinal cord injury recovery, using aggressive physical therapy and high-dose electrical stimulation. I strap my paralysed limbs into my Ekso Bionics robotic legs and I walk. I walk miles and miles of uncharted steps towards the frontier of recovery. I believe a cure for spinal cord injury is possible. Success is our objective. And we know that in our pursuit of a wildly ambitious goal, the potential for failure travels with us. If there is no risk of failure, it’s probably not worth pursuing.
Unbroken by blindness in 1998, Mark went on to compete in ultra-endurance races across deserts, mountains, and the polar ice caps including a race to the South Pole. He also won medals for rowing at the Commonwealth Games and set up an international motivational speaking business. In 2010, Mark was left paralysed after falling from a second story window. He is now exploring the frontiers of spinal injury recovery using aggressive physical therapy, robotic legs and by connecting those working in science and medicine. Selected by the World Economic Forum as a Young Global Leader and appointed to the Board of the Christopher & Dana Reeve Foundation, Mark is an ambassador for Wings for Life, co-Founder of the global running series called Run in the Dark (runinthedark. org) and is author of the book Making It Happen.