May 21, 2007 / 9:27 AM / 13 years ago

After fighting paralysis, adventurer wins Arctic race

LONDON (Reuters Life!) - A decade ago Christopher Mike faced possible paralysis from serious back injuries, so winning a grueling two-week race across the Arctic this month after a year’s training was a major personal triumph.

Mike, 48, and two colleagues in team Bearing 360 North beat seven other trios to win the annual Polar Challenge, a 350 mile race through freezing conditions to the north pole.

His team, co-sponsored by Reuters, ICAP and Merchant Inns, raised over $100,000 for Orchid, a charity committed to reducing the incidence of testicular and prostate cancers.

But for Mike, who lives near Tetbury, Gloucestershire, and works in executive search, the race was also a personal quest.

Ten years ago he faced paralysis due to a series of back injuries inflicted during the years he played rugby and served in the parachute regiment, running with heavy packs and jumped out of airplanes.

“I was in a lot of pain and this led to depression,” Mike told Reuters.

“But I resolved to fight it and opted for chiropractic rather than conventional medicine and I have made a pretty much full recovery. So for me, at a purely selfish level, this was about me conquering that. It has meant a great deal to me.”

Mike said he hoped to be able to use his win to inspire other people facing a physical disability to fight on.

The event, described as the world’s toughest polar race, is held in unrelenting, freezing conditions with temperatures as low as minus 40 degrees Celsius.

The 24 competitors had to race on skis in single file for about 12 hours a day, pulling supplies on a 90 kg (200 lb) sledge behind them with food and their camping gear, prepared to confront polar bears along the way.

Competitors had various reasons for wanting to compete in the event that was first held in 2003.

Steve Jones from Team Star, leader of a UK-based software company, survived a rail crash in London and wanted to find something that would replace that traumatic incident as the most dominant experience of his life.

Kirsty Bamber from the Arctic Virgins, one of the two all-female teams, works in a bar and wanted an adventure.

Three competitors failed to complete the race. One dropped out, unable to cope any longer, while two withdrew because of injuries. Bearing 360 North won after the team ahead of them finished with one member missing due to injuries.

“What this has proved to me is that you don’t have to be a 24-year-old super athlete to take on a challenge like this. You just need the mental fortitude,” said Mike.

“I will be highlighting to people now in the position that I was in 10 years ago - unable to walk - that they should never give up.”

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