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Polar Academy explorers head to Greenland

Written by Fiona

April 03 2015

After 10 months of tough physical training, 10 teenagers from North Lanarkshire will today fly out to Greenland for the the start of what promises to be a life-changing 10-day 100km expedition.

The children, aged between 15 and 17 from St Aidan’s High and Coltness High School in Wishaw are the first to benefit from the Bergans of Norway-supported Polar Academy, a charity set up in 2013 with the aim of inspiring Scotland’s youth through exploration.

Selected from a shortlist of 19 pupils and after demanding physical and psychological assessments, the four boys and six girls will be expected to haul their own 40kg sledge across sea ice and through remote mountains while taking an active role in navigation and scientific experiments for projects such as the European Space Agency.  They will each burn in excess of 4,000 calories per day.

The pupils’ are accompanied by Craig Mathieson, who is the founder of The Polar Academy and regarded as Scotland’s greatest living polar explorer. A veteran of several successful Antarctic and Arctic expeditions, Craig, 45, has hand-picked several expert fellow guides for the trip, including Nigel Williams, Head of Training at sportscotland Glenmore Lodge, Aviemore; Dr Michael Wild, an expedition doctor; and Jess Ridgway, an instructor at sportscotland Glenmore Lodge.

Craig Mathieson with guides jess Ridgeway, Dr Mike Wilde and Nigel Williams.

Craig Mathieson with guides jess Ridgeway, Dr Mike Wilde and Nigel Williams.

Craig, who in 2006 helped to train and guide a 15-year-old schoolboy to the North Pole has no doubt that the journey through wild and challenging terrain, including skiing across sea ice, camping under the stars, visiting abandoned Inuit villages and glimpsing remote unnamed peaks, will be a life-changing experience for the teenagers.

He said: “I set-up the Polar Academy to help kids like I was at school – invisible.  It’s a chance for children who lack self-confidence and self-belief to understand that life really can get better.  You can break the mould but you have got to want to take that first step. 

“The 10 selected – supported by their parents and school – have already demonstrated their resolve and commitment by sticking to a tough exercise and dietary regime and undertaking months of practical training that includes practice in navigation and camp craft.  I’m really proud of them all.

“The real reward will be when they return to Scotland realising they can achieve whatever they want in life. They will be truly transformed individuals ready to share their experiences with over 24,000 other school-pupils and in their own words highlight that by taking that difficult first step you really can make dreams reality.”

Supported by Bergans of Norway, Tiso and Cornhill Building Services, as well as private donors, The Polar Academy needs to raise £170,000 for each of the annual expeditions to Greenland over the next three years.  

Holly Stewart from Coltness High School in Wishaw is among those preparing to fly out of Glasgow Airport today for the three-leg outbound journey that will end with a helicopter flight to the edge of the Arctic sea ice. 

She  said: “Training has been really hard, however it has been the most rewarding experience of my life so far. I can’t wait to set foot on the ice and begin the expedition.”

The expedition will start at Tasiilaq and, weather dependent, will end at Tiniteqilaaq.  The expedition will fly back into Glasgow Airport on April 16.

Polar Academy kids

Coltness High School: Colin Myles (17), Rhiannon Walker (17), Jodie Thorburn (16), Jack Inglis (16), Holly Stewart (17).

St Aidan’s High School: Carla Brawley (15), Sara Dunn (15), Morgan Healy (15), Paul Shuttleworth (15), Declan Hutton (15).

See The Polar Academy.

* The photo of the Polar Academy explorers leaving Glasgow is supplied by Jeff Holmes Photography.

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