A bit like Sam Drury, you’ve probably never heard of Steve Henry. He’s not a famous rugby player. He’s not really even a rugby player anymore. More just a fan of our beloved game like the rest of us ‘average joes’.
But the adventure that Steve is gearing up for is far from average.
In a year’s time, maritime & polar adventurer Jock Wishart will lead two teams of brave individuals on a pioneering expedition across the Arctic. Just for shits and giggles? No. To break a world record by playing the most northern rugby match in history … at the Magnetic North Pole. As you do.
The Arctic Rugby Challenge hopes to set out from Resolute Bay, Canada in the middle of April 2015 and trek up to 100 miles to the certified position of the Magnetic North Pole in just 7 days.
Aiming to raise money for children’s rugby charity Wooden Spoon, among these intrepid adventurers will be former England Internationals Tim Stimpson and England 7s legend Ollie Phillips … and Steve, a Durham graduate who now works in the city and who simply enjoys pushing his body to the limit.
It will be Wooden Spoon’s biggest ever fundraising event and TakeTheThree will be tracking Steve and the team’s progress as they prepare to take on this somewhat epic endeavour. We had an initial chat with Steve at the event’s launch party on Wednesday night.
TakeTheThree: Steve, how has rugby been a part of your life to date? Do you play?
Steve Henry: I played rugby for what adds up to about half my life. I started out at school when I was drafted into the team as they needed some “bigger lads” to play prop. But I loved the sport and never looked back. Over the years I slimmed out and moved backwards through the pack via second row and played most of my rugby as a flanker. After playing rugby for my college at Durham Uni, I spent a few years playing rugby on and off with Millwall Rugby club between injuries before finally calling it quits after being far too much of a regular on the physio table.
TTT: What’s your greatest rugby experience, either playing or watching .. or both?
SH: Watching, I don’t think anything will still surpass the 2003 world cup final. I can still remember getting up at ridiculous o’clock to go and watch it on the big screen in the hall of our University college. It was such a tight and nerve-racking game, but the finish with Wilko’s drop goal getting us the win is something I’ll never forget, even if the rest of the day’s celebrations are a blur.
TTT: If not rugby any more, what sort of exercise do you do?
SH: Since “retiring” from rugby my main focus has been on endurance challenges. A few marathons, 3 ultra-marathons, a 100k cycling race, the 10 peaks challenge in Brecon Beacons and a few shorter distance events. I also like to play the odd bit of tennis for something a bit different.
TTT: Have you done anything like this Arctic Rugby Challenge before?
SH: The biggest challenge I’ve done before this was the Marathon des Sables, a six-stage 250km race across the Sahara carrying your own equipment and food supply. It was a great race and a great way to see and really experience a spectacular and unusual part of the world that not many people venture far into. Being able to run with a heavy pack a long distance is one thing but being able to do it day after day is another. The race itself was brutal and required a huge amount of training and preparation but was thoroughly rewarding and overall enjoyable.
TTT: How did you find out about the Arctic Rugby Challenge?
SH: I had signed up for a 300km race across a frozen lake in Siberia, pulling all of your supplies behind you over the course of two or three weeks. Unfortunately that race was cancelled due to lack of funding but I kept looking online to see if there was something similar and I came across the Arctic Rugby Challenge.
When I found it the pieces fitted together perfectly. A 100mile trek to the magnetic North Pole was a dream ticked and on top of that it’s a game of rugby, a sport I’ve loved since I was a teenager. It’s an amazing challenge, an amazing charity and too good an opportunity to miss out on.
TTT: So this will be the other extreme in terms of the conditions.
SH: Yes this will be a very different challenge. The hottest day we had in the Sahara cleared 50C and we’ve been told that at the time of year we’ll be in the Arctic it can drop to -50C.
TTT: What appealed to you about the challenge?
SH: Well, everything really. Most importantly we’re raising money for a fantastic charity in Wooden Spoon, which is a great thing to be able to do. It’s a unique opportunity to experience a truly amazing and remote part of the world [fewer people have been to either of the poles than have climbed Everest] and to do so with a great bunch of people and to set a world record for playing rugby there really adds to it.
TTT: It’s certainly not your average game of rugby. Talk us through some of the challenges you’ll face along the way.
SH: The Arctic conditions will be the real test with such low temperatures and the wind chill factor. That extreme cold is not something I’ve experienced. We’ll all be following a strict training programme to ensure we’re firstly fit enough to enjoy the experience but a lot of it will also be mental.
Jock’s got a hell of a lot of experience in these things and will be guiding us through all the technical details. For example, apparently the key is to avoid having moisture on you – to the extent you should always be a little bit cold so you’re not sweating. If you’re sweating, any moisture on your body can freeze and that’s when you can get really cold. When you’ve stopped you want to add all the extra layers to keep warm and avoid hypothermia. It’s important to keep covered up to avoid frostbite, and that’s a team effort as frostbite starts with numbing and can be quite hard to pick up yourself. That element of teamwork will be really important and it resonates well with the game of rugby.
Add in the odd polar bear along the way – in fact more than the odd one – and we’ll have to have our wits about us.
TTT: Have you picked up any other initial tips from Jock?
SH: One of the things that made me realise how technical things are is talking about the constant need to make water. Despite being surrounded by ice, you need 5-10 litres of water a day for drinking, cooking food and hygiene. But when you get into your tent you can’t just melt ice straight away because if you put ice into a pan with significant heat, the ice doesn’t melt; it actually just burns. So you have to have a bit of water already in the pan. You have to carry water with you and plan for the amount needed, in order to make more water.
TTT: It sounds like you’re in pretty good shape but how will you be tailoring your training regime?
SH: At the moment I’m just working on trying to get a really good base level of endurance fitness and I’m getting there. I’ve just done the Edinburgh marathon, but not in a very good time. Once that endurance is there I’ll start working on some more specific fitness using the cross trainer and ski machines in the gym will be much more like what we’re going to do than running or cycling.
We will also be pulling a heavy pulk [like a toboggan] full of gear and for that it will be important to have good core strength. Aside from being physically fit, the really import thing is all the technical work and learning to use the equipment in the freezing cold. In such an extreme environment everything we do needs to feel like second nature as you can’t afford to be faffing around when you need to get your tent up, your stove going and your hot water on so that you can get in and warm as soon as possible.
TTT: Where can people go for more information and to sponsor you?
Or you can text the word “POLE49” and “£” followed by any amount to 70070.