4 People, 6 Legs team celebrates triumph in world first kite ski challenge
On Sunday 24th April 2016, 4 people with 6 working legs between them successfully conquered the largest glacier in Europe by snowkite. It was the first time Iceland’s Vatnajökull icecap has been crossed by a disabled athlete, let alone exclusively by harnessing the power of the wind. A one of a kind, not only on this glacier, but anywhere in the world.
Snowkiting – where individuals are pulled across the surface of the snow on skis by powerful kites – is a worldwide growing extreme sport, but the mammoth 200 km trip from one side of the glacier to the other has been completed only a handful of times by kite according to local knowledge, and never by a team including a person with a disability.
Sean Rose was injured in a ski accident in February 2000 whilst serving in the Royal Air Force, damaging his spinal cord and leaving him paralysed. Unwilling to accept an end to his sporting endeavours, Sean set out to master sit skiing. He went on to become a World Champion water skier and double Winter Paralympic downhill ski racer, but learning to kite ski in 2011 marked the beginning of the journey to Vatnajökull.
Sean designed a one-off custom seated snow kite rig with a single ski specifically for this trip. It involved 5 years of prototyping, testing, training and support from many within the power kite community – in particular team member and filmmaker, Kieron Jansch who taught Sean to kite. They were joined on the adventure by property developer Mike Dann and entrepreneur Max Smith.
“Taking a bunch of regular people who share the same passion for the outdoors and developing a team capable of overcoming such overwhelming odds has been a pleasure to be part of”, said Max.
The group of four previously travelled to Iceland in 2014, but their attempt to tackle the glacier was cut short when Sean developed an infection, leaving the team with unfinished business.
During their latest expedition, the adventurers endured sub-freezing temperatures, unfavourable wind conditions and 80 mph winds, but completed the crossing in just 7 days.
“Some days we only managed to travel a few miles, but we were prepared for everything the Vatnajökull threw at us. The last day was, by far, the most dangerous. We had to navigate crevasses, sink holes and fracture lines to reach the end point. We just had to stay safe, be patient and forge on at every opportunity”, said expedition leader, Mike.
Although a personal challenge for each team member, the expedition also raised awareness and over £15,000 for the ‘Wings for Life Spinal Cord Research Foundation’, a charity that funds research into finding a cure for spinal cord injuries.
“After 16 years in a wheelchair, to be without it for a week was a scary proposition, but maybe one day we’ll not need them”, remarked Sean when reunited with it at the end of the trip.
Kieron updated 4 People, 6 Legs supporters via social media on the team’s return to Reykjavik, “We’re exhausted, smelly, and very hungry, but also very, very happy.”
The Team have already been discussing new adventures much to the dismay of family members. “We had highs and lows, but I’ve got to do something like this again. It made me feel alive, I felt challenged, but never unsafe – the journey was Epic and everything I’d hoped it would be”, said Sean.