HOLED up in his tent seeking protection from the frigid Antarctic weather during a South Pole quest, Kevin Vallely was shattered.
Physically and emotionally drained, the North Vancouver resident was unsure where he would find the strength to complete the journey he'd embarked on: a world record-breaking, unsupported 1,100-kilometre trek from Hercules Inlet to the Geographic South Pole, completed in January 2009. For the feat, he had teamed up with Ray Zahab, founder of Impossible2Possible, a non-profit organization that uses adventure as a medium to educate, inspire and empower youth around the world to make positive change.
Throughout the journey, the adventurers communicated via satellite technology with classrooms and learning centres around the world.
"This one particular day I was really at my wits' end," says Vallely, 47, a North Shore News columnist and residential designer. "I had realized what I got myself into in a big way and I was just overwhelmed by it and exhausted. You're questioning everything at that point, just really, 'How can I keep doing this?'"
One group of youth following their journey was based at a detention centre outside Chicago, Ill.
"These were tough kids on the fringe of society in a lot of ways," he says.
Vallely, in his negative state of mind, happened to read an email from a young offender asking what kept him and Zahab going and why they didn't quit.
"It was fascinating because he hit it on the head," says Vallely. "It was the exact thing I was actually questioning myself. It didn't take much for me to realize that my answer to him, or my answer by actions anyway, I could see would colour his world in very much a real way. This kid who was really at a crossroads himself at a much more profound level than I was, was facing the same question. So when I read it, it really kind of hit home and it touched me."
The interaction reminded Vallely of the importance of not giving up and pushing through regardless of what barriers are placed in one's path. It's an epiphany that will no doubt continue to motivate him when he embarks this week on his third extreme adventure to date with Impossible2Possible. In addition to the South Pole, he also travelled with Zahab on a record-setting 640-km, 13day trek across Siberia's frozen Lake Baikal in February-March 2010.
On Feb. 18, he and Zahab will begin a new mission titled Expreso de los Andes, a 1,700km, approximately three-week run from South America's Pacif-ic to Atlantic Coast. They'll start in ConcÃ³n, Chile, covering approximately 70 km per day. They'll head up and over the Andes mountain range, passing over a shoulder of Aconcagua, the largest peak in the Americas at 7,000 metres. As they drop down to the other side, headed for Buenos Aires, Argentina, they'll increase their daily runs to 100 km.
"It's really kind of pushing it out there in terms of what is humanly possible," says Vallely.
Interest in Impossible2Possible has been steadily increasing and they're set to have more than 20,000 students from around the world following them, and communicating live using a BGAN satellite communication system. Vallely encourages more teachers to get involved, especially those on the North Shore, as he's more than willing to make in-school presentations upon his return.
Each of the Impossible2Possible expeditions highlight a particular issue; for example Lake Baikal focused on the world's clean drinking water crisis. The Andes mission is focused on the importance of health and physical activity. To that end, Impossible2Possible has created lesson plans for teachers to download for free, as well as eight-week physical activity challenges for both students and teachers. Vallely encourages students and teachers to do what's "outrageous" for them, like simply getting more active every day or training for a half-marathon.
Expreso de los Andes has also garnered the interest of physiologist Greg Wells, the host of the Gemini Award winning series Superbodies, who will be following Vallely and Zahab.
"He's going to be monitoring us and testing us physiologically as we do this and try to get his head, and our heads, around how do you manage to do this," says Vallely.
For more information, visit www.impossible2possible.com or andesrun.com.