Polar race gets under way with British pair hoping to raise £250,000 for UNHCR
RESOLUTE, Canada, April 10 (UNHCR) - Six teams of adventurers set off this week from Canada's Cornwallis Island in a 640-kilometre race for the magnetic North Pole, including two young Britons hoping to raise £250,000 (US$495,000) for the UN refugee agency.
The 15 competitors, including Team Refuge's Jake Morland and James Turner, aged 31 and 30, left Resolute - the last inhabited outpost in northern Canada - at midday on Monday.
The competitors, including the all-female Blue Tits and a mother and son team, will have to drag heavy sleds, endure temperatures of minus 40 degrees Celsius, navigate open patches of icy water and be on the look out for dangerous polar bears during the race for the pole, which is expected to take at least four weeks. The winners will receive the Wedgwood Blue Ice Trophy.
Team Refuge, who have so far raised more than US$50,000 of their sponsorship target of £250,000, took an early lead on the first day of the endurance race. Shortly before setting out from Resolute, former UNHCR field officer Morland said he and long-time friend Turner, a schoolmaster, were in good shape and ready to go.
"It really is getting close and having spent the last two nights out in the tent the enormity of the task ahead is starting to sink in. So, excited? Yes, but with a touch of apprehension," said Morland, who has worked in places like Iraq, East Timor, Sri Lanka and the Sudan for the refugee agency over the past seven years.
He admitted that although they had trained hard in the gym and on a two-week trip to the Swedish Arctic, a lot could go wrong. "A life-dependent glove blowing away in the wind, a polar bear attacking the camp, a ripped tent - the list goes on. If the weather is good and we manage to find our way we expect to reach the pole, but you never know."
Morland and Turner have also bulked up - they will be pulling heavy sleds carrying the essentials for survival, including tents, food, medical supplies, communications equipment and urine flasks so that they do not have to leave their tents in the middle of the night to answer a call of nature.
The cold scares Morland more than the polar bears. "The cold is terrifying. No sooner have you left the tent than your eyelids freeze together and your bones begin to ache. Knowing how to use our equipment is essential or else we'll be in a lot of trouble or worse," he said.
Arch Insurance (Europe) has given Team Refuge £40,000 (US$80,000) to cover the costs of the race, which means that all the funds they raise will go straight to UNHCR. The public will be able to continue donating to the team through the rest of this year.
"We would like to earmark this money [£250,000] for a special trust fund to cover urgent medical evacuations for refugee children; a quick access fund for field officers to bypass too much paperwork," Morland explained.
"This is also an opportunity for James and I to use the Polar Race as an excuse to talk to people about the refugee issue. We will return to the UK in May to begin a series of talks on the race and refugees at schools, community centres and universities around the country," he added.
UNHCR has an historic attachment to the North Pole. Nobel Peace laureate and Arctic explorer Fridtjof Nansen was the world's first High Commissioner for Refugees, serving in this position for the League of Nations, precursor of the United Nations. Each year UNHCR awards a prize in his name to a person or group for outstanding services in supporting refugee causes.