He is fourth in line to the throne, a veteran of the war in Afghanistan, where he called in NATO strikes and flew Apache helicopters, and now he is joining former soldiers, including two Canadians, in an ambitious race to the South Pole.
Prince Harry described an Antarctic weekend storm that delayed the race as “rubbish.” But, according to the Walking With The Wounded website, the three separate teams from the United States, Britain and rest of the Commonwealth are due to fly on Tuesday afternoon from the Antarctic station of Novolazarevskaya, or Novo, to the second base camp, where the race will start.
In typical Prince Harry style, he has made light of the obstacles he has faced and praised fellow expedition members.
“I obviously broke my toe hoping to get out of the trip. That was a massive fail on my part. Friends of mine said I really should have gone that step further and break a leg, but I chose not to,” he said in a video from the Antarctic.
He also told the British press that his father, Prince Charles, was concerned about his safety and that his older brother, Prince William, had expressed some envy. “I think he’s quite jealous I managed to get away from his screaming child,” said Prince Harry, who will be leading the British team in daily treks of up to 20 kilometres.
More than a dozen war veterans who served in Afghanistan and suffered serious injuries, including losing limbs, or post-traumatic stress disorder are set to don their skis and start pulling sleds with bags weighing more than 100 pounds in minus-35-degree-Celsius weather. They will cross 335 kilometres of rugged terrain while navigating dangerous icy crevasses.
The aim of the race is to raise awareness about the challenges wounded veterans face and to gain public support for charities supporting former soldiers.
The storm hindered team efforts to get out and practise and acclimatize to the Antarctic conditions, but a break in the weather in the past 24 hours has given the ex-soldiers hope.
“The weather has finally picked up, beautiful blue skies here. Still cold, about -15° C, wind chill, that takes it down to about -20° C/-25° C,” said Briton Guy Disney, whose right leg was amputated below the knee after he was hit by a rocket-propelled grenade during a patrol in southern Afghanistan in 2009.
Canadian Chris Downey is a member of Team Commonwealth, made of Canadians and Australians who have been supporting the Soldier On charity.
Mr. Downey was part of a Canadian army team in May, 2010, whose job it was to find and get rid of improvised explosive devices in southern Afghanistan. After a day of disabling of IEDs, he was returning to his vehicle on foot when an IED exploded. He lost his right eye and all his teeth and suffered severe burns, a collapsed lung, and a shattered jaw and right hand.
He held on to a message from medics who treated his injuries in Afghanistan. “They knew I loved motorcycles. They told me right away – even if you have one eye, you can still ride a bike. I grabbed on to that and that was my motivation. I stayed with that,” Mr. Downey recalled in a video.
The Cold Lake, Alta., native says the South Pole race has “re-sparked” a love of the outdoors, training and nutrition.
For 31-year-old former combat engineer Alexandre Beaudin D’Anjou of Quebec City, the memory of the day in September, 2009, when his light-armoured military vehicle was struck an IED is still vivid. “I just remember horrible … probably the most horrible sound ever. It’s like the sound of the vehicle being blown in the air,” he recalled in a video posted on the Antarctic race’s website.
He suffered facial lacerations, a concussion, loss of feeling in his left leg and chronic pain.
Mr. D’Anjou, who has been training daily, hopes to complete the race and deliver a simple message to other wounded veterans. “Don’t live your pain, but live your life,” he said.
Both Canadians were picked to join the race following an application and interview process.