When injury cut short his rugby career, Richard was inspired by Ran Fiennes and decided to retrain as a mountaineer. He’s since taken on the most arduous physical challenges from climbing the highest peaks on all seven continents to the Yak Attack mountain bike race in Nepal, five consecutive marathons in Peru’s rainforest, two Ironman contests (back-to-back) in Snowdonia and a race to the South Pole. Testing his capabilities to the limits, and applying science to his expeditions, Richard admits the original spark came from fear of being a ‘nearly’ man.
Richard is a former rugby union player who has gone on to be the first person to scale the highest peaks on each of the planet’s continents, plus Everest, and trek to the North Pole and the South Pole, within a calendar year.
Richard started out as a professional rugby player of considerable promise playing for Leeds, Perpignan, and representing his native Wales. Unfortunately he was the victim of a tackle that severely injured his shoulder. Unaware of the severity of the injury, Richard continued to play until a consultant told his that he had to stop or risk terminal damage. After what he describes as ‘easily the most difficult year of my life’, plagued with fear and depression at the lack of structure and focus in his life, Richard sought out a new challenge. Building on his love of outdoor pursuits, he decided to take up climbing. His dedication and habit of pushing himself saw that evolve into taking on The 737 Challenge.
The 737 Challenge consists of climbing the Seven Summits - the highest mountains on each of the world's continents - plus the three ‘poles’ - North Pole, South Pole and Everest, in seven months. After a gruelling training regime, with almost no experience of mountaineering or extreme climates, Richard undertook his mission to raise money for Marie Curie Cancer Care. He funded his endeavour with his life savings and by mortgaging both his own and his parents’ homes.
Six months and eleven days after setting out Richard reached the summit of Mount Elbrus, the highest peak in the Russian Caucasus. He became the first person to conquer the Seven Summits and the three poles inside a calendar year and set a new standard for the feat. After this impressive achievement, Richard continued to challenge himself, running over 100 miles in five days through the Peruvian rainforest, and becoming the fastest Briton in history to ski solo, unsupported and unassisted from the coast of Antarctica to the South Pole (an expedition he filmed for Channel 5).
Now an extreme athlete, Richard works with academics, medics and companies to study the effects of extreme environments on the human mind and body. With results aiding everything from sporting performance research to clothing to neuroscience he has a unique take on what a person is capable of.
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Despite his reputation as an aggressive rugby player, Richard comes across as a humble guy. His irrepressible enthusiasm for death-defying exploits for charity can’t fail to raise a smile. More importantly, the way he's turned career-ending injury into a source of motivation is a terrific lesson for anyone. JLA Agent Millie Thomas