TURNING YOUNG ADULTS INTO ROLE MODELS FOR THE NEXT GENERATION
On Saturday Team GLM responded to a call from The Polar Academy to join 10 teenagers from Bell Baxter School in Cupar, Fife on their penultimate endurance training trek ahead of their departure at the end of March on expedition to Greenland. The instructions were simple: be at Invertrossachs car park at 10am on Saturday, bring a packed lunch, we’ll provide the tyres. Tyres?? An equally simple question back, but what about the weather (Storm Dennis was looming) met an equally stark response: Polar Academy training is never cancelled! Of course not, the hint is in the title, adverse weather required.
So at the allotted hour, Jo, Aythan and I (we had a few call offs in the days leading up, the opportunity to haul a spare tyre around for 7 hours in the rain obviously a challenge too far) stopped in a rain soaked car park, the clouds so dark it was hard to believe daylight had been with us for a couple of hours, to be greeted by a beaming Craig Mathieson, founder of The Polar Academy, Scotland’s Explorer in Residence and leader extraordinaire. His smile was so broad and welcome so warm, any concerns about the weather disappeared in a flash. Only to be replaced by fear and trepidation as he handed us a body harness with an old car tyre at the end of a rope. Mine was a lovely low profile, 225x35x18 to be exact, probably weighing about 7kgs. A tentative question about time and distance justified the fear – 30kms in 7 hours!
It was at this point that we realised that far from fear, the Bell Baxter Team of eight girls and two boys aged between 13 and 16, selected for the 2020 expedition after a rigorous assessment and training programme over ten months ago, were quietly getting kitted up, working efficiently in their tent teams, ready for the task ahead. Just another step towards their common goal – a self-guided 100km, 10-day expedition in Eastern Greenland.
Participants are put through a rigorous ten-month training programme before being immersed in the wilds of Greenland, navigating through some of the world’s remotest terrain for ten days. Their confidence soars with every step.
On their return to Scotland, each pupil shares their experiences with their peer groups, speaking to more than 20,000 school children in their region. They are living, breathing proof that dreams are attainable and that ordinary pupils can achieve the truly extraordinary.
So, with the rain steadily worsening and the wind gusting, we set off hauling the tyres through the sodden, but majestic, Trossachs countryside. Along the side of Loch Venacher, up through the forest, back down to the lochside, a quick lunch stop in the shelter of some trees and then a shivering restart through the forest again on seemingly endless track over to Loch Achray. A swift march to the head of the loch, through rapidly rising streams signalled the halfway point and, after a sharp burst of 100 press ups, we turned for the long trek back to the car park. All this was executed with a display of grit and determination not readily associated with the ‘youth of today’ but I can tell you now, from first-hand experience, they were awesome! Not a single murmur or complaint, just determined focus.
Some of the stories along the way were both heart rendering and warming. Stories of low self-esteem, crippling shyness and a lack of aspiration, in many cases the result of bullying or just being lost in an uncaring education system. Some old hands in the form of past Polar Academy explorers came along to inspire. Arran (Expedition 2017) and Matthew (Expedition 2019) typify what this inspirational organisation do. Having met both immediately post their respective expeditions, the transformation is incredible. Academic performance and attainment, tick, goal focused future, tick, confidence and self-esteem, tick, inspirational leaders, tick. It is quite remarkable. Arran has ‘told his story’ now to over 7000 young people as far afield as Canada and the US and is deeply ensconced in an Adventure Tourism Management degree at the University of the Highlands and Islands in Fort William. His goal is to return one day to lead and inspire more young people through The Polar Academy. Matthew now stands tall (physically and metaphorically) casting off the once debilitating day to day challenges focusing now on his twin goals of a Graduate Apprenticeship at tech and engineering specialists Leonardo and exploring the South Pole.
This is why at GLM we love to support Craig and The Polar Academy. They are doing the work that really matters, inspiring the next generation and a little bit of rain or a storm named Dennis isn’t going to stop that!