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Blind man sets new world record by reaching South Pole

A British man who is legally blind has set a new world record by becoming the first visually impaired person to trek from the coast of Antarctica to the South Pole.

Amateur explorer, Alan Lock, completed the nearly 600 mile trek from the coast of Antarctica to the South Pole to raise awareness and money for the development charity, Sightsavers.

During the 39-day trek Alan faced howling arctic winds, snow white outs, freezing temperatures as low as -35C, sunlight for 24 hours a day and a diet consisting of dehydrated food packs and chunks of butter. Trekking on skis across a distance equivalent to 21 marathons, Alan dragged a sled weighing 60 kilograms harnessed to his waist - and all with severely limited vision.

The 31-year-old explorer suffers from a condition called macular degeneration, which he was diagnosed with whilst training for a career as an engineer and officer in the British Royal Navy in 2003. In the course of six weeks, Alan’s vision deteriorated to the point where he felt he was looking at the world through frosted glass. Eight years on and now working in telecoms Alan’s central vision is gone.

By completing one of the world’s toughest mental and physical challenges Alan hopes he has shown that, despite his visual impairment, he can take on significant feats and raise awareness at the same time for his chosen UK charity, Sightsavers.

Speaking from the South Pole, Alan Lock said "It feels amazing to have made it to the South Pole, what an adventure. The high point is having the opportunity to make this expedition in the first place. Reaching the pole, having been only one of a handful of people to have ever walked here, is a fantastic experience. There have been difficulties with the terrain but this has all be made possible for me by my great team members.

Having such a personal experience of the impact of visual impairment, I am incredibly passionate about supporting the vital, but often neglected, area of avoidable blindness so it has been wonderful to raise money for such a worthwhile cause.”

Joining Alan on the trek, Polar Vision, which started on 22 November were his two sighted team mates Andrew Jensen and Richard Smith. They met while studying for an MBA in America. Helping the team complete this physical and mental challenge has been guide Hannah McKean who has now made the trek five times - more than anyone else in the world.

Despite intense training which included a training camp in Iqaluit, Canada where they spent a week traversing the ice pack near the Arctic Circle on skis, and dragging tires attached to their waists along beaches and parks in the UK to develop the muscles needed to pull the sleds, nothing could have fully prepared them for the challenge that they faced in Antarctica said Alan. “Trekking for over nine hours each day we have been losing up to 9,000 calories a day. We’ve also suffered many falls and bruises whilst trekking across the rough terrain as there are many big drops and jumps which I’ve relied on my teammates to guide me through.”

Caroline Harper, chief executive of Sightsavers commented: “Sightsavers is incredibly grateful and honored that Alan has chosen to support our work to eliminate avoidable blindness in the developing world. By taking on such a colossal challenge and raising money for Sightsavers’ work, they will help to transform the sight and lives of some of the world's poorest people. Today there are 39 million blind people in the world. This figure could double by 2020 if more is not done, so this kind of support has never been more important.”

This is not the first challenge that Alan has taken on since losing his vision. Alan has completed in 10 marathons including the 151 mile Marathon Des Sables in the Sahara Desert. He has been to a number of mountain summits including the highest mountain in Europe, Mt Elbrus, and in 2008 Alan set a Guiness World Record when he became the first visually impaired person to row across the Atlantic Ocean.

So far to date the team has raised over £15,000 towards their two chosen charities – Sightsavers and the US charity, San Francisco-based Guide Dogs for the Blind – but are hoping to raise much more. For more information about the trek and information about how to sponsor the trekkers, visit http://www.polar-vision.org/

 Ends/

Alan Lock and the team will be available for photos and interviews from the 11 January. Please contact the Sightsavers media team on 01444 446787, press@sightsavers.org.  For media enquiries out of hours, please call 07775 928253.

Notes to editors/

About Sightsavers:

1.     Sightsavers is a registered UK charity (Registered charity numbers 207544 and SC038110) that works in more than 30 developing countries to prevent blindness, restore sight and advocate for social inclusion and equal rights for people who are blind and visually impaired.  www.sightsavers.org

2.     There are 39 million blind people in the world; 80% of all blindness can be prevented or cured.

3.     In the six decades since its foundation, Sightsavers has:

-       Treated over 206.8 million people for blinding and potentially blinding conditions

-       Carried out over 7.1 million operations to restore sight

-       Trained almost 0.5 million primary eye care workers

-       Carried out rehabilitation training to 91,000 people

About the trekkers:

Alan Lock

Alan Lock is a former Royal Navy Officer. In late 2003 Alan began to suffer from Macular Degeneration which rapidly destroyed much of his vision and cost him his military career. Despite this, Alan has completed 10 marathons including the 151 mile Marathon Des Sables in the Sahara Desert. In 2008, Alan set a Guinness World Record and raised over $80,000 for charity when he became the first visually impaired person to row across the Atlantic Ocean.

Richard Smith

Richard has lived and worked in Australia and England. He has a passion and enthusiasm for endurance sports due to the personal challenges that these provide. Richard has climbed Mount Kilimanjaro, trekked to Everest base camp, and across Ethiopia’s Simien Mountains. He remains a keen marathon runner and in recent years he has also completed a number of Triathlons including an Ironman 70.3 in Summer 2010.  He is chairperson and founder of the Tuck Triathlon Club and is currently training for a full Ironman event in Zurich in Summer 2011.

Andrew Jensen

After growing up in Littleton, Colorado and graduating from the United States Military Academy in 2004, Andrew served as an Infantry Officer in the 101st Airborne for five years. Earning two Bronze Stars for service in Iraq and Afghanistan, Andrew is now a full time MBA student at the Haas Graduate School of Business at UC Berkeley. He is an avid ultrarunner, having completed several 50 mile and one 100 mile run.

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