The former No 8 struck a blow for disability when completing an Icelandic challenge
Ed Jackson continues to amaze. The former Bath, London Welsh, Wasps and Dragons No 8 recently became part of the first all-disabled team to cross Europe’s largest ice cap.
Jackson, 34, has paralysis and weakness down one side of his body after breaking his neck diving into a swimming pool. He was joined on the 136km expedition by Darren Edwards, a former army reservist paralysed from the waist down following a climbing accident, and Dr Niall McCann, a biologist left with limited use of his legs after a paragliding accident.
In crossing Iceland’s Vatnajokull Glacier on skis, with Edwards on a sit ski propelling himself with his arms using poles, the trio encountered fearsome storms, freezing temperatures and whiteouts so intense they couldn’t even tell where the ground stopped and the air above it began. “It was like being on the inside on a ping-pong ball,” says Jackson.
Three days into the challenge, Jackson and McCann had to wrestle a tent pole back into position during a ferocious storm. “If a tent pole comes loose it can end up ripping the side of the tent. And if it does that your trip is over.
“One small thing, like a rip in a tent or getting your clothes wet or a bit of body management not going right, can scupper your trip. Like blisters, I ended up with a couple of holes in my feet. I’ve got no pain sensation in my right leg. Darren had a similar issue, so the wear-and-tear issues we had to really stay on top of.
“I think we realised after three days it was going to be physically possible but could we stay switched on enough to get across? Because being on an ice cap is more about routine, admin, endurance. It’s about concentration but in an extreme environment when you’re tired.”
Going to the toilet inside the tent, while the weather raged outside, was certainly a bonding experience. And as for navigation, let’s just say not all of the zigzagging they did was down to necessary avoidance of crevasse fields.
“It was quite funny because we had a camera crew following us, and they had a guide with them. But for our trip to be unsupported, there could be no advice or help at all. So even though they knew we were sometimes going in the wrong direction, they had to follow us. They were getting really frustrated I think!”
The trio had enough food for 18 days but completed it in 11. Jackson lost 8kg and spent the next week devouring burgers and pizzas in Reykjavik.
“I’m not in the game for doing world firsts or fastest, longest, hardest. I think this was an important message to send because it was unsupported,” he says.
“We wanted to send a message to others who might be in similar positions as us, and change a few perceptions about disability. Darren, Niall and I all come from ‘macho’ backgrounds and to suddenly lose all that is a difficult process to live through.
“Working out who we are again involves learning to be vulnerable and accepting our weaknesses. But hopefully we’ve shown that by working together, disabled people can still achieve stuff. And just because we had a bad diagnosis at one point doesn’t mean it necessarily has to be a bad prognosis.
“We are all still affected by our spinal cord injuries, but psychologically we’re in a much better place than we ever have been. And just being able to share this experience with each other, we felt very fortunate. It was a pretty humbling experience.”
The trio undertook the challenge to raise funds for Jackson’s charity Millimetres 2 Mountains (M2M). To make a donation see www.justgiving.com/campaign/back2back
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