Blind adventurer set for history
Johannesburg - Blind adventurer and motivational speaker Hein Wagner will take on this year's Antarctica Marathon with seasoned athlete Mike Bailey as part of the 100-man race.
It will be the first time in history that a blind person participates in this extreme endurance event, which takes place on March 7.
As part of their preparation, the duo will train in the cold-room at Cape Union Mart's Adventure Centre at Canal Walk, Century City, from this week onwards.
Wagner has set aside the fact that he has been totally blind from birth to live a fulfilling and abundant life, and never hesitates or stands back from any challenge.
"I've taken on many daring adventures such as the Cape Epic, mountain climbing, sailing from Cape Town to Rio, running several marathons and becoming the fastest blind driver in the world (he holds the World Land Speed record for a blind driver) and am excited to tick this one off my bucket list.
"Mike Bailey approached me around five years ago with the idea to participate in seven marathons on seven continents. I asked him which one was the most difficult of the lot and his answer was the one in Antarctica. Luckily, I've already participated in the New York, Hong Kong and Cape Town marathons."
On their training for this challenging race, Bailey said: "We've probably had about six to seven runs together over the past three months.
"I think it will be great to train in the cold-room for a number of different reasons, such as getting the right layers of gear together and learning what parts of the body get cold and what to do about it. It will also help us to mentally adjust to the minus 18 degrees and being confident that our bodies can adjust to these temperatures."
Bailey added: "It will further assist us in getting the balance right between generating enough heat to keep the body core warm relative to the outside temperature. We only started training in the cold-room on Saturday."
The marathon offers two options - a half marathon of 21.1km and a full one of 42.2 km, which is the one Wagner and Bailey will be competing in.
Wagner said: "The biggest challenge of this race is the unpredictable weather. On a nice day it can be minus 10 degrees Centigrade, with little wind, but just the next day it can be colder with gale force, icy winds.
"In my case the wind plays a major role - the harder it blows, the less I can hear what's going on around me, especially instructions from Mike. The terrain is also very uneven, with ice and slush making up most of it."
Bailey adds: "Just to give you some perspective - reading glasses mist up in 15 seconds, a 2-litre coke freezes solid in 20 minutes, your extremities - toes, fingers and ears - feel the cold the most. It takes a long time to warm up and the rubber under your running shoes goes rock hard and freezes, as there is no friction to keep it flexible."
Not only is the race treacherous, but the journey there as well. They depart from the world's most southern city, Ushuaia, on a Russian reconnaissance boat. It takes around two days to get to Antarctica and the route will take them through the Drake Passage.
Wagner still wants to pilot a Boeing filled to the brim with passengers from London to Cape Town, a dream that could become a reality soon.
He will participate in this extreme race to promote the abilities of those living with disabilities and to raise funds and create awareness of the VisionTrust, a non-profit organisation he founded in mid-2008, which strives to make the world as we know it a more accessible place for people living with disabilities.