Wilmslow Rugby Club's Andrew Walker never imagined when he moved to Manchester and joined the club three seasons ago from Dumfries Rugby Club, that one day he would be selected as part of a team to trek for three weeks across the Arctic to play in the northernmost game of rugby ever at the North Pole.
The popular 27 year old Scot from Dumfries, a solicitor at Eversheds LLP in Manchester, joined 13 others, including former international players Tim Stimpson and Ollie Phillips for the trek and world record attempt. Former British Lion Lee Mears was the special guest referee. In order for the game to be ratified by Guinness as an official world record the pitch had to be accurately marked out and a set of rugby posts had to be erected.
The game was a tight affair with Andrew's team, 'Team Tim', scoring 3 tries to Team Ollie's 2, and running out eventual winners 17-14.
The challenge was organised by the Wooden Spoon charity, the children's charity of rugby. The aim, in England's Rugby World Cup year, was to harness the support of both established rugby supporters and the wider public in an ambitious feat to raise £300,000 to help disadvantaged and disabled children across the UK and Ireland. In the North West, Wooden Spoon has recently donated £40,000 to the Royal Children's Hospital in Manchester and has supported a number of projects throughout the Greater Manchester, Lancashire and Cheshire region.
"It was the most incredible experience to have been a part of", said Andrew on his return. "It was undoubtedly a once in a lifetime opportunity and something that I will remember for a long time.
"The trek was both physically and mentally draining as we walked for over 8 hours every day only ever stopping for a maximum of 10 minutes. With nothing other than ice rubble to aim for on the horizon you had to stay focussed throughout, keep your head down and really grind out the hard yards. The temperature would often drop to as low as -30, which is pretty chilly when you are active and walking during the day but it's another level when you have to camp in that.
"There was clearly a huge rugby element to our trek and the rugby ethos was apparent throughout the three weeks. We trekked together as one big squad relying on each person for a different task – if someone didn't pull their weight they were quickly found wanting. We really had to dig in and pull each other through at various points on the trek. The level of teamwork shown was extraordinary and the relationships that were built out on the ice will last a lifetime.
"My personal target was to raise £25,000 and I would like to thank all those who supported me and to help me achieve my goal – your donations are very much appreciated. We as a squad are striving to hit our £300,000 target so any further support is greatly received.
"I would like to give a special word of thanks to my employers, Eversheds LLP, who have been extremely supportive throughout. I was also fortunate to get considerable help from former Wilmslow Rugby Club president Ian Stewart. In his youth, Ian played rugby at Heaton Moor and more recently was well known for being secretary at the Northern Tennis Club in Didsbury. He's a long standing Wooden Spoon member and was able to open many doors for me. Wilmslow Rugby Club members and players have been extremely generous and made a substantial contribution for which I'm extremely grateful."
Andrew's fundraising will continue up to and throughout the Rugby World Cup this autumn and anybody reading this, who would like to help, please email Andrew or visit www.justgiving.com/Andrew-Walker87
It is almost inevitable that amongst his Wilmslow Wolves team mates, Andrew will now be known as 'The Arctic Wolf'.
Photos: Wooden Spoon Match Imagery – Playing Rugby at the North Pole. Andy Walker playing for Wilmslow against Leigh.
Guest post by David Pike.