Personal View

By Alan Lock, MBA 11

The most rewarding experiences in life are often the most challenging. Indeed, it is the inherent difficulty of a challenge that tends to be so appealing. This is certainly true of a project I am currently involved in: crossing Antarctica on foot all the way from the coast to the South Pole. This feat has been completed by only a handful of people—more people have been in orbit and almost ten times as many have summitted Mt. Everest.

While the challenge is undeniably a major draw for me, there is another reason that I am undertaking this endeavour.
Seven years ago a rare condition badly damaged my eyesight, leading to the loss of my career as a British Royal Navy officer. The condition could not be cured and swiftly left me partially sighted. For an active, young man in his 20s, this was a crushing blow, resulting in a whole host of additional problems, including losing my driver’s license, the inability to read text, and giving up many sports that I loved.

Now, I would certainly never claim that this was in any way a “good” thing, and to this day I would do virtually anything to fix my eyesight. But this experience did leave me with a heightened appreciation of how fragile one’s life can be. I became determined to follow as many of my dreams and ambitions as possible, cramming as much into my life so that if the worst ever happens with my eyesight I will have plenty of good memories. These challenges have included climbing the highest mountain in Europe, completing the 151-mile Marathon Des Sables across the Sahara, and rowing unsupported across the Atlantic Ocean.

Through many of these ventures I have tried to dovetail my own personal ambition with supporting sight-related nonprofits and charities. My rationale: However bad my situation was, many people around the world suffer way, way more from sight loss.

So that brings me to Polar Vision, an expedition that intends to raise awareness and funds for two nonprofits: Guide Dogs for the Blind and Sightsavers International. Guide Dogs supports blind and visually impaired people in North America, while Sightsavers International focuses on preventable blindness in the developing world. The team and I will be aiming to set a new Guinness World Record for the first visually impaired person to cross Antarctica and reach the South Pole. Association with such a record will greatly help the two nonprofits through increased media awareness and a higher public profile. Working with the nonprofits also gives us a deeper purpose to the challenge than simply satisfying a personal goal.

The idea really took off the summer before I arrived at Haas, and coalesced into a tangible project during my first term. I arrived
from England with two friends who were 80 percent committed. By Christmas, the entire Polar Vision team had been formed: three Brits and two Americans, including one successful Antarctic explorer (you see, I am not entirely crazy).

The team is heavy with MBAs, including a current Tuck student, an IMD MBA graduate, and two current Berkeley MBA students—myself and former U.S. Army Officer Andrew Jensen, also MBA 11. Planning an expedition of this kind is a gargantuan task of international logistics, and for me and Andrew, trying to manage Polar Vision around our studies and internship hunt has been difficult to say the least. That said, the project has enabled us to put much of our MBA coursework into practice. What also has been truly amazing is the level of support from our classmates, who have connected us to potential sponsors and other supporters as well as the media.

We are slightly more than a year away from our start in late 2011 but still have much to do. We have potential sponsors to speak with, training to do, and equipment to procure and test. And we also have the small matter of graduating and ideally find an employer who can work around our unconventional post-MBA plans. That’s aside from the actual challenge of the expedition itself—covering around 600 miles in freezing conditions while pulling a heavy sled.

Still, if it were easy, then there wouldn’t really be a challenge. And as I said, it is the challenge, particularly in aid of causes so close to my heart, that makes the whole venture so appealing and so exciting!

If you are interested in supporting Alan Lock, Andrew Jensen, and the rest of the Polar Vision team through corporate support or partnership, please contact them at polar-vision.org.