One man’s story of triumph against the odds should be an inspiration to us all
‘The true test of character is not how much we know how to do, but how we behave when we don’t know what to do.” John W Holt Jr uttered these words and today, when normal people are faced with challenges, there are those who run for the hills and there are those who overcome struggles and emerge as born leaders.
In the current economic climate, when work and financial challenges can leave us feeling overwhelmed, we need leaders to inspire us. If you are a manager of a firm and you need to motivate your team, you would make a wise choice in looking at the story of a normal man who had normal fears and doubts but overcame them to achieve the seemingly impossible.
The Good Friday Agreement made 1998 a memorable year, but for one young man from Northern Ireland, the peace, politicians and parties were far from his thoughts. Mark Pollock thought he had it all. He was a final year student in Trinity, studying business and economics.
Captain of the university boat club, an international rower, in line for a top job with a London investment bank, the accolades were endless. Then, one day, his life changed forever.
All the progress being made at Stormont paled into insignificance as Mark Pollock lay on a hospital bed, receiving the news that he had lost his sight forever.
Mark assessed the options that faced him in Northern Ireland and, rather than crawl under a rock, he decided to regain his independence by moving back to Dublin. The city Mark loved as a student had changed dramatically for him. Unable to negotiate the busy streets alone, he came to rely on his guide dog, Larry. He soon learnt how to use a computer with the aid of speech technology. And so began the process of rebuilding his identity.
For years Mark had thrived on the competitive aspect of fitness, especially rowing. The combination of physical endurance and camaraderie had given him so much.
He decided to get back in the boat, winning silver and bronze medals for Northern Ireland in the 2002 Commonwealth Games.
Then he was ready for bigger challenges. These included completing six marathons in seven days in China’s Gobi desert in 2003, before completing the North Pole marathon in 2004, the Liffey Descent kayaking race and Ironman triathlon in Switzerland.
This is just a handful of Mark’s accomplishments but what’s even more impressive is that he kept raising the bar. By 2007 it was back on dry land for the lowest and highest foot races in the world — Dead Sea Ultra and Everest Marathon.
But in 2009, Mark set himself the biggest challenge yet, to become the first blind man to reach the South Pole. Despite the bitter cold, the endurance and the desolation, Mark upset the odds, at the same time redefining what is possible.
The explorer Ranulph Fiennes first met Mark while competing against him in the North Pole marathon and was impressed by his positivity, resilience and determination.
“To take on endurance challenges in places like the Arctic, Himalaya and Gobi Desert requires great courage and mental strength. The fact that Mark has completed these adventures after losing his sight makes him truly inspiring.”
Mark is quick to point out that he is no different to anyone else. He is a normal guy who, when a goal is big enough and exciting enough, is motivated to achieve it. He believes that a lot of people are working-out with no goal and no purpose, so it is easier for them to fall off the fitness bandwagon. His book, Making Things Happen, is a practical, user-friendly one that challenges the reader.
Outlining his step-by-step plan to success he shows the reader how small steps can lead to big achievements. In life you can either have an excuse or a result: “Make excuses or make it happen!”