Running with the Ranulphs 26 Sep 2012
Last week, I had this sort of experience here in Wellington. While at the library to pick up some valuable tomes, I decided to cast my eyes around for anything else that might tickle my fancy. My eyes, like a couple of long-suffering huskies, dragged me across vast expanses of barren literary wasteland till, like a polar bear holding a STOP sign, one cover brought me to a standstill. A man with hair all over his upper lip and chin, hollow cheeks, and eyes reduced to black slits by either suffering or cold, looked right into my soul. The title said: Ranulph Fiennes: My heroes. In red underneath, were the words “Extraordinary Courage. Exceptional People.” It was extraordinary for me to take out a book like that, but I decided to make an exception.
I am so glad I did. New Zealanders love their sport, especially tough ones like rugby, long-distance running, and rowing. So it’s impressive that Ranulph Fiennes once ran seven marathons in seven days on seven continents, and not to line his own pockets, but in aid of the British Heart Foundation. Considering most of us can barely break into a run to catch the morning bus, this guy’s motivation just leaves me gasping.
When I hear of people doing huge physical challenges, I usually comfort myself by musing, “Well, they’re young, they haven’t had kids; they don’t have a double ankle like me, etc etc...” Then I learn that Fiennes climbed Mount Everest three years ago at the age of 65. 65??!! That’s ridiculous. That’s ten years older than me now...
The “heroes” of the title are, obviously, other people, though some of whom Fiennes fought with as a soldier, and often touching on issues that affect all of us. Most of these are in fact soldiers, adventurers and outdoors individuals. But Fiennes also makes mention of the heroism of ordinary people in urban settings, too. One example was a 50-year-old man on a Berlin train who chose to speak up when two knife-wielding youths were robbing some children. No one else did anything. For his troubles, he was knocked to the ground and kicked to death (“as are the vast majority of have-a-go heroes” observes Fiennes).
Here in New Zealand, we’re all aware of a similar act of heroism by Austin Hemmings who went to the aid of a woman being attacked with a knife in downtown Auckland, one day in 2008. He was stabbed and died in the street where it happened. Austin was married with three teenage children. He was also a Christian and tributes to him called him a Good Samaritan. New Zealand honoured his bravery with a posthumous bravery medal (presented to his family).
Anyway... back to my point about coincidences. The day after I got the Fiennes’ book out of the library, there he was on our TV news. He’s got another project!: this time he’s trying to lead the first team ever to cross Antarctica on foot in winter. It will also be raising funds for “Seeing is Believing”, an initiative to prevent avoidable blindness. But he’s not stupid: while he and his skiing partner are slugging it out in front, they will be given solid moral support by two bulldozers following behind dragging big sledges.
All I can say is that in a world that seems obsessed with anger and violence, and in many cases the suppression of human potential, thank God for noble adventurers like these.Photo and image credits: Martin Doyle
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