Dispatches From the South Pole, Entry 1: Preparation

Posted by: Geoff Gloeckler on November 17, 2011

In late September we introduced you to team Polar Vision, Alan Lock, Richard Smith, and Andrew Jensen, three recent MBA grads who are trekking to the South Pole to raise awareness for visual impairment. While on their journey, the team will be filing periodic blog posts. This is the first such post from Jensen.

“You feel like a cobra is tightening its coils around you,”

Rabih Dow, Director of Rehabilitation Services at the Carroll Center for the Blind, says this to me, sets his white cane aside, and leans back in his chair. There’s a brief moment of silence in the room as the last few leaves fall off the trees outside the Center’s Newton, Massachusetts, office.

I don’t mention to Rabih that cobras don’t coil. He continues: “Tonight, when you’re in your home, try to brush your teeth with your eyes closed. Try to put toothpaste on the brush. It’s hard! It’s really hard!”

Another pause, while this sinks in. He leans forward, excited now. “But it’s not impossible! You can learn to do it! And we can teach you! And then we want you to leave the Center and get out into the world,”

Rahib is talking to me about progressive, sight loss causing disease. We often think of blindness as someone either being able to see or not, but typically what happens is a gradual erosion of eyesight, until it fades completely. Rahib, and the Carroll Center, teach people to accept the challenges which accompany visual impairment, and through acceptance build the techniques necessary to live independent lives.

It's a message that particularly resonates with me. In just four days I will jump on a plane which will take me to Chile. There, I'll meet Alan Lock, the first visually impaired person to row across the Atlantic Ocean. Together, we'll set foot on the coast of Antarctica on November 22, with the goal of making Alan the first visually impaired person to ski the 580 miles from Union Glacier to the South Pole.

These last days before an expedition are the most demanding. We've acquired, organized, and altered our clothing and communications equipment to make them 'Polar ready'. We've had our last, long farewells with friends and family. We've argued over the right Santa beards to buy for the team Christmas photo somewhere as far from Santa's workshop as it is physically possible to be on Earth.

We've also managed a fundraising campaign for Sightsavers International and Guide Dogs for the Blind which has raised nearly $20,000.

But this meeting with Rabih has been one of the most important. He's a living embodiment of the message Alan is trying to send- that we can overcome our disabilities and see beyond our limits. Listening to Rabih talk about a blind man who built a dollhouse for his daughter using the Carroll Center's powertools and a woman who fried eggs for her family for the first time, I know that Alan's expedition is important. I know that if you lose your eyesight you don't have to row across the ocean or walk to the South Pole, but you can choose to make the minor leaps that lead to major improvements in your life.

The Polar Vision team will assemble in Chile on November 18. We'll spend about four days packing our sleds and organizing, then we begin our expedition on the 22nd. We hope to travel about 10-15 miles each day for the 580 miles we must eventually cross, finishing sometime in mid-January (and a few days after the 100th anniversary of the Pole first being reached by man).

Please follow our updates at our website, and please consider making a donation. We're so grateful to our nearly 200 donors, but we still need your help!

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