These days, it’s not unheard of for people to raise a substantial sum of money for charity by running across an entire country. However, what Australian ultra-marathon athlete and former politician Pat Farmer did is completely astounding.
In 2012, the then 50-year-old ran 13,000 miles from the North Pole to the South Pole in less than a year. That means he ran two marathons a day for 319 days straight. His mission? To raise money for the Red Cross to build clean water wells.
“I’ve seen first hand, the poverty and the absolute despair on people’s faces in communities when they don’t have water,” he said in From Pole to Pole, a documentary about his epic run.
In the end, Farmer raised about $100,000 for the Red Cross’s water and sanitation projects.
National Geographic named him “Adventurer of the Year” in 2012, and for good reason. He started his year-long quest in the North Pole, where it was a “mild” 20-below. He risked hypothermia and side-stepped fresh polar bear tracks for 40 days en route to Canada.
Then it was time to load up an RV and put on his running shoes. He hit the pavement, cruising through Canada and running down the east coast of the United States.
Along the way, he even met up with Alex Afonso, an Army veteran, who came back from the Iraq War with chemical burns on his lungs. Afonso was told he shouldn’t run, but he still logged a mile with Farmer in Virginia.
By day number 115, Farmer had reached Mexico with swollen toes and toenails so deformed that he had to cut large holes in his shoes in order to run.
By day number 162, he arrived in Costa Rica, but time was of the essence because he had to hit the South Pole at the height of summer. So, when he ran out of road in Panama, he elected to traverse through the Darién Gap to Colombia, which is a hideout for drug and gun runners, bandits and insurgents. Add to that venomous snakes, crocodiles, and flash flooding, and it’s a miracle Farmer emerged from that 37-mile trek at all.
“I’ve never ever taken anybody through the Darién Gap in the rainy season,” one guide said in the documentary.
Farmer pressed on and arrived in Peru on day number 197, and Chile on day number 233. However, he got lost in Chile, and had to spend the night alone in the driest desert in the world.
He reached Union Glacier on day number 275, where the average temperature in the summertime is 28-below. With time running out, he ran all day, every day and collected snow for drinking water. His support truck broke down, but he continued the run only supported by one snowmobile.
Finally, on day number 319, he reached the South Pole and planted a giant Red Cross flag there to mark the milestone.
“My message to each and every one of the persons I passed by is that any of us can achieve anything we set our mind to if simply take it just one step at a time,” Farmer said. “I like to think that this run and myself is living proof of that.”
You can watch Farmer’s incredible journey in From Pole to Pole on Red Bull TV.