100-mile Arctic challenge for Scots teenagers

Ten Scottish teenagers are in the final phase of intensive training as they get set to embark on a life-changing 100-mile Arctic ­expedition, the first of its kind by a unique new charity.

Craig Mathieson puts pupils Morgan Healy, Sara Dunn and Carla Brawley through their paces. Picture: Neil Hanna

Polar Academy is the brainchild of 45-year-old Craig Mathieson, an avid outdoors enthusiast and father of three who is passionate not only about exploration but also about the positive impact it can have in ­shaping young lives.

The aim of the new scheme is to inspire and motivate young people through exploration and demonstrate that anybody can achieve their full potential.

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Mr Mathieson, who led the first dedicated Scottish expedition to the South Pole and is the first ever explorer in residence at the Royal Scottish Geographical Society (RSGS)., said there were particular youths who gained most from the Polar Academy.

They were the ones who were often overlooked, a “hidden” group whose lack of self-belief thwarted their ambitions.

“They just keep their heads down and plough on,” he said.

But the veteran explorer insists training for and completing the ten-day trek across Arctic Greenland can entirely change their outlook and performance.

“You don’t need to be special to walk on snow or go to the North Pole,” he said.

“It is about knowledge, not ego. We don’t take risks.

“You need to have the right training, the right equipment and good planning. But most importantly you need the right attitude – believing you can do it.

“With these kids you’ve got to show them. They have been told what they can’t do all their lives.”

Mr Mathieson was inspired to give up his job as a tax expert and set up Polar Academy after witnessing the turnaround in a “troubled” 16-year-old on a trip to the North Pole in 2012.

“He was painfully shy. He would hide in his room and couldn’t look you in the eye.

“Training transformed him and he reached the North Pole without a scratch. Everyone saw him differently afterwards. ”

Now ten pupils from two North Lanarkshire high schools, Coltness and St Aidan’s, have been picked to join the inaugural expedition in April.

They will cover around ten miles a day on skis, towing their kit on sleds. They will carry out scientific studies and send live updates to “base camp” at school. Afterwards they will publish their work and recount their experiences to the region’s 24,000 high school pupils.

The £200,000 expedition cost has been raised via donations and sponsorship, with Scottish outdoor specialist Tiso and Bergans of Norway supplying gear worth thousands of pounds.

North Lanarkshire Council has provided gym memberships and grants to cover costs.

“This is an outstanding opportunity for the young people involved,” said learning and leisure services convener Jim Logue.

“They will give presentations in schools across North Lanarkshire and inspire others to seek similar challenges.”