Walking With The Wounded South Pole Challenge 2013

19 April 2013

Every Step Of The Way

By Jamie Milne, Glenfiddich Ambassador, UK

6.30 a.m. 

I’ve just woken up in a hotel room, feeling inspired. I spend half my life travelling and living out of a suitcase, so hotel rooms have long since lost their novelty factor. Today is different because it’s the official launch of the South Pole Challenge 2013, which will see three teams of wounded servicemen and women take part in one of the most gruelling challenges of modern times – a race to the South Pole.  

Today I’m meeting the team and perhaps even HRH Prince Harry, the patron of Walking With the Wounded.

This is the second year of Glenfiddich’s partnership with the Charity in the UK. Last year, we sponsored the Everest 2012 campaign, which aimed to put five wounded servicemen on the summit of Everest. They proved their determination, their spirit, their courage. As a brand, we felt we had to get involved in this extraordinary endeavour.  

Our involvement didn’t just begin and end with funding – that’s not our style.  We worked with the charity to develop some of the most eye-catching and inspirational ads I’ve seen in a long time, featuring the slogan “No Ordinary Mountain. No Ordinary Men.”, ads that appeared in print as well as on billboards across the UK.  

We also hosted an event where we auctioned off bottle number 2 of only 11 bottles of our very special Janet Sheed Roberts Reserve 55yo Glenfiddich, raising another £44,000, and lots of awareness, for the charity. That’s our style, and that’s why I love working for this family-owned whisky brand.

This morning I’m meeting the team so I hop out of bed, literally. Having badly torn my left calf several weeks before the event, I am still hobbling around, but I manage to suit up in record time. As I eat breakfast, I spot a couple of guys on Sky News wearing Glenfiddich branding on their shirts, which doesn’t happen every day! It turns out these are two members of the UK team – Duncan Slater and Ibrar “Ibi” Ali – giving an early morning interview.

By chance, as my cab pulls up in front of the Mandarin Oriental hotel in Knightsbridge, I notice Duncan and Ibi getting out of the cab in front and stop to say hi. Duncan immediately notices the crutch I’m using because of my torn left calf and jokingly he asks if I’ve “been in the wars”. I explain and, as we both climb the stairs, I point at his two hi-tech prosthetic lower legs sticking out from his cut-off jeans shorts and suggest he is “still winning”.  

His laugh re-assures me that the sense of humour I grew to love in the Everest 2012 team will still be very much in evidence in the South Pole Challenge 2013 team. These guys want people to talk to them about the elephant in the room – their injuries. We’re all here to raise awareness of the vital work this charity does in funding re-training of our wounded and helping them to find new, long-term employment.

As we arrive in the room where the press conference will take place, we are greeted by a fantastic display of Helly Hansen polar expedition gear and the Glenfiddich Yurt, which was trekked to Everest Base Camp last year where it hosted the World's Highest Whisky Tasting

We then had a whisky tasting of our very own in the Yurt, a taste of the Everest expedition, but more importantly a taste of Glenfiddich – which everyone enjoyed!

I chat with some of the other sponsors, all of whom feel a close bond to this charity that goes far beyond the funding. I spend some time with Guy Disney, Ibi and Duncan from the UK team and then bump into David “Wisey” Wiseman who was a member of the Everest 2012 summit-attempt team last year. David is now working for the Endeavour Fund within the Royal Foundation, which helps to provide some of the funding for inspirational and awareness-raising ventures such as those undertaken by Walking With the Wounded and Row2Recovery.

I also chat with Jamie Gillespie from PACE, prosthetic providers for the UK team, who described some of the unique challenges of working with prosthetics and amputees in the harsh polar environment. Jamie supported Guy Disney when he successfully trekked to the North Pole and he’ll be supporting the team again during the South Pole Challenge 2013. Jamie is also an amputee as a result of a motorcycle accident when he was 19, but you wouldn’t know it. He’s a testament to his art. Duncan describes his new legs as “really comfy, like walking on clouds”.

Suddenly a hush falls over the room and I turn to see that Prince Harry has joined us. I’m now standing at the back of the room, only metres from the Prince, but in completely the wrong place to receive a royal handshake, though I’m delighted to see my boss has managed to get herself into a prime spot in the line-up. Harry talks casually, putting everyone at ease. I make my way back into the main room to get a good spot to watch the press conference and find myself having a very quick chat with BBC Security Correspondent, Frank Gardner. Frank is another inspirational character who has fought back to top-level reporting despite partial lower-limb paralysis when he was shot by terrorists while on assignment in Saudi Arabia in 2004.

The South Pole Challenge team take to the stage to rapturous applause. Ed Parker, one of the founders of WWTW, gives a typically heartfelt introduction. Kate Philp from Team UK and Ivan Castro from Team US, follow up with inspirational and emotional stories. Ivan is blind and will be totally reliant on his training and on his experienced guide, Inge Solheim, to whom he will be tethered for much of the challenge. Then Prince Harry announces that he will be taking part in the race as part of Team UK - Team Glenfiddich! This is headline news and sends a real buzz of excitement around the assembled media.

My only regret from the day was that I didn’t get a chance to meet Kate Philp from the UK team. Kate made a brave decision to sacrifice her left leg so that she could attempt to regain better mobility on a prosthetic than she would ever have had with the wounded leg. As she puts it, she was hoping to be able to play tennis again, and never imaged she’d be trekking to the South Pole. Luckily, I had the opportunity to meet Kate a few weeks later at another event – the Cumbrian Challenge, which saw around 400 intrepid hikers complete either a 20km or a 30km trek in the Cumbrian mountains.

I fly home to Glasgow and, as we take off from City airport, I get a great view of the Olympic Stadium at Stratford and it brings back memories of other highly-motivated individuals from both games last year.

Midnight. I drift off to sleep in my own home, feeling inspired.



Follow me: @GlenfiddichJM.

Follow the team every step of the way @supportthewalk or here on www.glenfiddich.co.uk, or via the Telegraph or WWTW websites.