A journey to the South Pole in a wheelchair

Posted: Aug 27, 2014 01:58 pm EDT

 

(By Galya Morrell) Over 1 billion people - one in seven - have some kind of disability, according to the World Health Organisation. Few of them chose to cope with pain and misery in a quite unorthodox way - through polar expeditions. Dmitry Shparo, Russian polar explorer, has been working with disabled polar explorers helping them to reach their goals for over 20 years.

 

Dmitry’s message to these people was simple: “You don’t need to be a superman to reach the North Pole. You need to try, and if you fail, try again”. This message and practical help of the experienced explorer inspired many people – handicapped children among them – to reach their dream.

 

Matvey Shparo and Boris Smolin

 

Very recently, in April of 2014, two teenagers with hearing problems have skied the Last Degree to the North Pole along with Dmitry’s youngest son, Matvey. This is not the first time Matvey led the expeditions of disabled people to some of the most inaccessible areas of Earth. 

 

In 2000 Igor Kusnetsov, a paraplegic young man from Barnaul, a town in Altai, Western Siberia, successfully crossed Greenland’s icecap in a wheelchair mounted on skies. The two other members of the expedition were renowned polar explorers Matvey Shparo and Boris Smolin. They travelled along the Polar Circle for about 600 km from Ammassalik on the east coast to Sondre Stromfjord  on the west coast. A few years earlier Igor who can’t walk at all, made an ascent of Mt. McKinley – also in a wheelchair.

 

Igor is one of many handicap athletes who have been on hard-core expeditions organized by Dmitry and Matvey Shparo’s Adventure Club.

 

Dmitry Shparo and the fall of the Soviet Union

 

Dmitry started these expeditions back in 1991, soon after the collapse of the Soviet Union. A few years earlier he had met Rick Henson, a Canadian handicap athlete, who inspired him to work with handicap people and help them experience everything what  other polar explorers and adventurers can.

 

One of the first major events for handicap in Russia was a  super-marathon in wheelchairs from Vladivostok to St. Petersburg; 12 times zones, 11,000 km. Imagine roads in Russia, that swallow trucks and tractors. Most people said the handicap athletes will endure for a week or so. They were wrong! 9 months later three men in the wheelchairs have made it to Moscow and then to St. Petersburg.

 

Why was this journey that many called “crazy” important? In the Soviet times, handicap people were second class citizens, simply put - outcasts. The notion of “accessibility” did not exist in the Soviet society. Millions of people in wheel-chairs were stranded in their little apartments on the fifth floor with no elevator and no chance to see the outside world. 

 

When, in late 1992, we arrived to Kremlin for a presidential reception honoring the three handicap heroes, we had to carry the wheelchairs up the stairs in our hands: there were no wheelchair ramps, not a single one. The same happened in Moscow City Hall. We all felt shame, along with pride for our athletes.

 

This journey made a huge impact on the society. Things started to change - slowly - for the blind, deaf, quadriplegic and others.  

 

South Pole plans

 

Today Dmitry and Matvey are preparing a new major expedition which should materialize in 2015: a 934 km journey to the South Pole in the wheel-chair. Many months of preparations are still ahead, but Igor Ushakov, 1979, a quadriplegic athlete from Kursk, a town in central Russia, is hopeful. He says that he will do what he can to conquer the South Pole and give others, especially the young people with disabilities, a hope.

 

Dmitry Shparo, 1941, Ph.D.Mathematics, is the Leader and the Director of the Adventure Club in Russia. He was the leader of the first ski expedition from Russia to the North Pole (1979). In 1988, the Soviet-Canadian ski expedition under the leadership of Dmitry Shparo completed the first traverse of the Arctic ocean from Russia via the Geographic North Pole to Canada.

 

In 1989 Dmitry founded the Adventure Club. Since 1991, one of the main commitments of the Club is a sport rehabilitation program of people, and in particular children, with disabilities; among the activities, taking kids on a ski expedition from Barneo to the North Pole. 

 

In 1998 Dmitry Shparo and his son Matvey become the first people to ski across the Bering Strait, dividing Asia and America.

 

Matvey Shparo and Boris Smolin, became the first team to reached the Geographic North Pole during the polar night of 2007-2008. They have started their expedition on December 22, 2007 from Cape Arktichesky, Russia, and reached the North Pole at 19.40 Moscow Mean Time, March 14, 2008. The men had one resupply along the way.

 

Previous/Related

 

Dmitry Shparo Top 5 North Pole Tips 

 

On the Siberia's Road of Bones, you travel in a tractor's scoop: Galya Morrell

 

North Pole Winter: 90°N before sunrise!

 

AdventureStats

 

 

Dmitry and Matvey Shparo:

Website

The Adventure Club website

The Adventure Club Facebook

 

Galya Morrell:

Personal Website

Expedition Avannaa website

 

 

#polar #DmirtyShparo #SouthPole2015 #SouthPole2015-16 #GalyaMorrell  

#MatveyShparo #BorisSmolin

#IgorUshakov

 

 

 

 

 

Dmitry Shparo, Russian polar explorer, has been working with disabled polar explorers helping them to reach their goals for over 20 years.
courtesy & copyright Galya Morrell, SOURCE
In the Soviet times handicap people were second class citizens, simply put - outcasts.
courtesy & copyright Galya Morrell, SOURCE
When, in late 1992, we arrived to Kremlin for a presidential reception honoring the three handicap heroes, we had to carry the wheelchairs up the stairs in our hands: [...] We all felt shame, along with pride for our athletes. (click image to enlarge)
courtesy & copyright Galya Morrell, SOURCE