“I saw you on the telly” screeched the voice from two checkouts over. Everyone looked up. “yeah, you were towing tyres or something training to walk to the North Pole”. My cheeks flushed deep scarlet; unless Ben Saunders was standing at the next checkout, she’d picked the wrong end of the globe, but her comments were directed at me.

She waited until my shopping was being scanned and I was packing, and then came over to chat. I have to admit that initially I was quite chuffed really, that is until she said “Yeah, you’ve got a right cushy life. You go on holiday and do stuff you want to do and talk other people into paying for it all” Not so chuffed.

“Right cushy life”? Is that what the public at large really think? I have to admit, it bothered me.

A big thank you to Justin Miles from LastGreatChallenge.com for this article talking about his experiences of fund-raising and planning for a HUGE adventure. Please do get in touch with them if you know of any way in which you could help their project. They are going after Captain Scott’s prize (the first unsupported journey to and from the South Pole) and deserve our support for a monumental effort thus far.

Doing something different

Becoming a full time ‘adventurer’, for me, has been my dream for a little over ten years. A good career in the fitness industry came to a very abrupt halt when I had a car accident in 1999. The resulting brain injuries left me unable to walk or talk properly and the prognosis was for a very long and probably incomplete recovery. As I sat for hour after agonizing hour with nothing to distract me from the boredom and frustration I had nothing to assist my escape but my own imagination and I started to daydream; I dreamt of one day becoming a full time adventurer, seeing everything that the world has to offer and helping a few good causes along the way.  Then I realised that if other people could do it, the likes of Ranulph Fiennes, then so could I. I turned my dream into a tangible objective, set goals along the way, then set about turning my dream into a reality.

Ten years passed quite quickly, and when I met John Wilton-Davies in an Exeter coffee shop we hit it off straight away. By the end of our ninety minute meeting we’d decided to embark on a polar expedition together, to be the first people to walk unsupported from the coast of Antarctica to the Pole and back. The expedition, which will also become the longest unsupported polar journey in history, has been named the ‘Last Great Challenge’.

Making a plan

The first meeting was the easiest day that John and I have had ever since. From that day on, we really found out about the amount of dedication, perseverance, hard work, long hours, heartbreak and joy that pulling off an expedition like this involves.

Many expeditions get involved with raising funds for a charity, but we wanted to do much more than present our chosen charity, the British Heart Foundation, with a chunky cheque.

We chose to work with the BHF because as well as their endless work to research and treat cardiac disease, they’re also heavily involved with programmes focusing on disease prevention through encouraging people to adopt healthy diet and exercise habits – something that resonates with our own beliefs and the work that I’ve been involved with since the age of 14.

A massive amount of thought, planning and a humongous amount of work has gone into developing the ‘Great Heart Challenge’, a national schools health and fitness initiative which is promoted to c38,000 schools across the UK and encompasses a sponsored event (for the BHF), healthy lifestyle promotion, and activity or exercise based around an ‘adventure’ theme.

On top of the GHC we also have an education programme which uses activity based learning exercises to support curriculum subjects. This learning programme is visible to a growing number of schools across the UK which currently stands at around 9,000.

The hardest part

When we get to the Antarctic, all we have to do is walk. The journey is a long one, and it’s cold, and the load is heavy, and I’m really not underestimating the enormity of the task ahead, but all we have to do is walk. My current eighteen hour days (all seven in every week) usually consist of working on the Great Heart Challenge, working on the education initiative, loads of work trying to generate publicity opportunities and sponsor hunting.

Hunting down sponsors isn’t easy in this economic climate and takes a massive amount of work. Many companies have stopped allocating budgets for sponsorship, and more still have cut back on their spending in the area dramatically.

Then we get a plethora of responses to our sponsorship enquires: “How visible is a polar expedition likely to be?” type of response from some as they look down their noses, preferring instead to sponsor a local club level sportsman, or a Formula One racing car. Then sometimes, we introduce the fact that our Great Heart Challenge will be visible to 38,000UK schools, followed by press and media including the BBC, and there’s an adult version currently running through the national chain of Spirit Health Clubs, and the education programme – then we get the response “Far too big for us to be involved with”. How do you win?!

“Lateral thinking’ is a daily exercise for me and John as we attempt to find the companies whose businesses or models for growth are aligned with the image that we’re trying so hard to portray through the expedition and the projects surrounding it, and then convince them that investing in us and our projects would be a very worthwhile business decision.

Then, if that wasn’t enough to keep us busy, we have to remember to work for the sponsors and supporters who are already with us. John and I are very conscious that without the support of our sponsors all of our projects would, without doubt, grind to a halt so we work very hard to make sure that all of our supporters get an extremely good return on their investment.

When it works, when our ‘pitch’ hits home and we hot the sweet spot, it does work well. Every company that’s become involved with us in one way or another has been delighted with the way that we’ve worked with them. So much so, in fact, that many have increased their investments with us which is a good reflection on how they value their association with our projects.

Doing it full-time

The Last Great Challenge expedition and the projects that we’ve built around it have been a full time job for both of us since March 2009. To make sure that the expedition and everything else is a success, we have both given up our businesses and invested everything we can to make it all work. Now, just a few months away from the starting pistol, things are getting really busy and exciting. You’re just as likely o find John and I talking on Skype at 2am as you are at 2pm. The Great Heart Challenge fitness initiative is in launch phase, the media is waking up to what we’re trying to achieve (in all respects), we’re running around all over the UK doing promotional work for the Great Heart Challenge and the expedition, we’re working for the sponsors already supporting us, we’re still working extremely hard to find more sponsors – and we still have to find the time to train!

Five months to go, knackered, exhausted even, but this sure is one hell of a ride!

Details of the Last Great Challenge and the Great Heart Challenge can be found on www.lastgreatchallenge.com


Justin and John are still looking for help with the Last Great Challenge and Great Heart Challenge, from sponsors to media coverage and promoters. If you, your company, your boss, your friends, your friends friends, your second cousin six times removed, or the lady who works in the shop around the corner want to help out in any way then please take a look around the website and contact Justin or John.

Footnote Part Deux…

Justin and John would really appreciate introductions to sponsors. If you think the company that you work for could benefit from being associated with the expedition or the amazing projects surrounding it then please contact Justin at justin@lastgreatchallenge.com

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