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February 2004

South Pole expedition


History has been written ... Michael McGrath's quest to conquer both North and South Poles has been realised following a successful expedition to the South Pole in January 2004, making him the first person with a disability in the world to achieve this feat. In some of the coldest temperatures imaginable, Michael McGrath, who has Muscular Dystrophy, tells how self belief and teamwork helped him conquer the South Pole, completing the pole2pole Challenge.

Michael at South Pole (Jan 2004) and 90 degrees North (April 2002).

"We are as strong as we want to be" is just one of the mottos of British businessman Michael McGrath. Michael has lost around 65% of the muscle bulk in his body due to the muscle wasting condition Muscular Dystrophy - a disease that in his own words "robs people of their mobility, independence and finally for those with the most severe form, their lives".

Michael's epic pole2pole Expedition will hopefully raise worldwide awareness about Muscular Dystrophy and bring in the target amount of £1million for The Muscle Help Foundation. The Foundation is a charity set up by Michael with co-founder and Chairman Miles Peckham to accelerate the process of neuro-muscular research, specifically into the condition Muscular Dystrophy.

In this article Michael describes the incredible journey he undertook to ensure worldwide awareness of Muscular Dystrophy - a condition affecting tens of thousands of people.

Use a muscle to save a muscle

By Michael McGrath,
Muscle Help Foundation.

The South Pole expedition is the first major event of the Muscle Help Foundation. The team's focus is to generate global awareness around muscle disorders such as Muscular Dystrophy as well as raising funds to assist in researching the causes and potential cures. But reaching the South Pole - just under two years after I made it to the North Pole - was no easy ride! Reaching the goal was a combination of being pulled on a sledge for 5 kilometres and walking, assisted by Miles Peckham, the last 310 metres across the ice.

Michael walking the last 310 metres. Michael and Miles at South Pole. Michael and team raising the MHF flag at the geographic South Pole.

Tipped over!

Riding in a sledge might seem a breeze, but not in the freezing conditions of the Antarctic - temperatures varied from minus 30 degrees to minus 45 degrees. The ice was very uneven and being literally pulled across the icy surface was actually one of the hardest parts.

The modified sledge tipped up several times and left me face down on the ice. It was extremely uncomfortable and there were times when I felt despondent because the tipping over happened several times! It was the aim of raising the profile of muscular dystrophy that was my prime motivation. This gave me the determination and inner strength that pulled me through. The most exciting moment being when I walked the last 310 metres, assisted by Miles Peckham. Each metre representing 10,000 people with Muscular Dystrophy worldwide.

Having Muscular Dystrophy (MD) means I felt the cold in the South Pole acutely - a cold winter's day in England usually renders me housebound. This was coupled with, on occasion, a strong, biting, wind.

Walking on the terrain in the South Pole was also very hard. Walking at home on floorboards and carpet is difficult enough, but in Antarctica, I had to compete with slippery ice, an uneven terrain, extremely strong winds and the cold sub-zero temperatures that blow through to your very soul!


While we were in Antartica the team each had specific jobs to do. Mine was to be the 'brakes manager' for the 'chariot', a specially adapted light-weight titanium wheelchair made using NASA technology.

This almost ended in disaster when I once forgot to check the brakes were on and landed up thumping my head on the ice, the wheelchair having snapped backwards. It was a lesson for us all!

Miles and I made it to the South Pole just before midnight on Tuesday 13 January. It as an emotional moment when I phoned home to my wife Sue to say "We made it, honey!" Returning home two weeks later to my wife and daughter Gemma, 17, was another wonderful moment.

I had looked forward to a warm bath and all the other home comforts for too many days - my wife cooks the most wonderful Italian meatballs, watch out all you celebrity cooks!

A personal message from Michael McGrath to e-bility visitors:
"The two most important things I've learnt so far is that you are as powerful and strong as you allow yourself to be, and that the most difficult part of any endeavour is taking that first step" Michael McGrath, February 2004.

Michael with Alexandra Shackleton, Patron of the South Pole expedition.

Inspiring others

My fund raising journey does not end here. I hope that my efforts will also inspire others to use their muscles.

This is a global 'click to donate' appeal ... I am asking people to simply use the tiny muscles in their left or right index finger in clicking our online donate button and in doing so, help save muscles.

Some people with MD cannot turn the pages of a book, others cannot even smile because the muscles in their face do not work properly ... as such they are unable to laugh at a joke or even express the emotion of happiness. Are we really asking too much?

The Muscle Help Foundation is planning more high profile events to help raise money and ensure that the £1million goal is achieved - how can you help?

More information

Michael, departing Heathrow Airport. Babs Powell, Pedro Munoz, Michael McGrath, Miles Peckham with Amelia the penguin. Michael and Miles Peckham celebrating at Heathrow Airport on their arival back home.

All photos are copyright Michael A P McGrath.

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