by Stephen White
Forget an evening kick-off in February at Welford Road, a trek to the North Pole takes physical endurance to a whole other level. Throw in an officially sanctioned game of rugby and you’ve got a serious mission on your hands.
The Essential Cyclist got in touch with event organiser Tim Stimpson to dig a little deeper into the coolest rugby event in history, and to see how he plans to keep his (rugby) balls warm.
TEC: Hi Tim, great to speak to you. How did the Arctic Rugby Challenge come about?
TS: Hi, I was doing a motivational speech down at Wooden Spoon headquarters a year ago. They asked me if I’d be interested in doing an expedition to the North Pole to raise some money and to lift the profile of the charity in the run up to the Rugby World Cup, and I jumped at the chance.
TEC: Do you have any experience of surviving in Arctic conditions?
TS: None at all, I’m not an outdoors person in the trekking sense. This is completely new to me so it will definitely be a massive shock getting used to the cold. It’s all about preparation and getting to grips with the processes of survival you might expect, like putting up tents and trekking, but all with the huge physical pressure of a treacherously cold environment.
TEC: How will your gear be transported?
TS: We’ll have three planes to help get us to Resolute Bay which is on Cornwallis Island, north of continental Canada. We’ll be in training for four or five days before being dropped by plane 100 miles from the North Pole. From there we’ll set off carrying everything ourselves. We’ll have tents, food, clothing, shovels, and a shotgun.
TEC: A shotgun? Surely it won’t come to that...
TS: It’s a precautionary measure against polar bears, which are a real hazard. They hunt people and, uh, they’re quite big. I must stress though that the idea is to scare them off with firecrackers if they come too close. It’s their territory and being wild animals they are, obviously, not predictable. We may not see any or they may wander past - we just don’t know. We went to a shooting range in Yeovil recently and had some training in how to look after ourselves with firearms. Hopefully we won’t have to use that training.
TEC: What other hazards will you be facing?
TS: The other dangers are all associated with the cold. It will be a real test of teamwork just to avoid succumbing to frost bite. If you’re sweating pulling a sled and you stop, danger presents itself as the sweat will turn to ice and that’s when your temperature can really drop. Apparently it’s best to be perpetually cold - a nice level of discomfort without actually losing any fingers, which sounds an horrific prospect.
TEC: No huskies to help take the strain?
TS: No unfortunately, I wish there were as they’d provide an early warning against polar bears. We’ll be going on our own steam. Day to day we’ll get up, walk, stay hydrated by melting ice, setting up the tents - the prospect of three blokes sharing a tent is bad enough. It will be a great achievement if we can succeed and hopefully we’ll be raising lots of money in the process. We are all making sacrifices to be there, although there will be a satellite phone to help us stay in touch and to show people where we are.
TEC: What kinds of distances will you be covering each day?
TS: There are one hundred miles to cover over a seven day trek, so we’re aiming to hit around 15 to 20 miles each day. Our experienced team members say some days can be slower, navigating ice-sheets and hills, and avoiding unsafe ground. It won’t be straight line travelling, more up down and around. It will be unlike anything we’ve ever done and the effort will burn a lot of calories. I’m sure we’ll be coming back a lot lighter.
TEC: And there’s the small matter of playing a game of rugby when you reach your destination…
TS: Yes (laughs), hopefully the weather will be on our side and by the end we’ll have become more used to the pain and difficulty of the cold. We may be hiding in our tents waiting for the right moment, but the game has to be compliant with International Rugby Board (IRB) regulations: There will be a full size pitch, posts, a professional referee - it’s a proper match and it will be filmed by Total Rugby. We are going for a recognised world record for the northernmost game of rugby so it has to be a full length game at the specified latitude and longitude to qualify.
TEC: What will be the main differences in terms of playing kit?
TS: I think we’ll still have to wear our ice boots, or some sort of specialist footwear for traction on the ice. But you’d have to be soft to wear anything other than standard kit, surely? We’ve got shirts specially made, but I’m quietly hoping there’ll be a few layers underneath (laughs).
TEC: Could you tell us a bit more about the charity that the challenge is supporting?
TS: Sure, we are aiming to raise £300,000 overall for Wooden Spoon, a children’s charity within rugby. Over the last 30 years it has raised over £20 million for disadvantaged kids. The charity is built on 30 regions around the country and it gained official IRB recognition a few years ago; the Princess Royal is our patron and the organisation itself is run by volunteers, many of whom have enjoyed a career in rugby and want to give something back. We help kids who are living with disability to benefit from participation in rugby, and it’s great to see the enjoyment this creates. Any former rugby players or enthusiasts who are inspired by the great things being done at Wooden Spoon are encouraged to get in touch and help change lives for the better.
TEC: Thanks Tim, that’s great. Very best of luck with your challenge, The Essential Cyclist hopes you hit your fundraising goals for this fantastic cause.
If you would like to keep up to date with the progression of Tim’s Arctic rugby expedition, head to www.arcticrugbychallenge.org
You can also follow the teams on Twitter: @wsarcticrugby and send messages of support by using attaching #teamtim or #teamollie
To support the challenge and help the work being done by Wooden Spoon, you can pledge money at:
You can also donate by texting the code ARCT01 £2, £5 or £10 to 70070.