Crossing the glacier: Sean’s going to Iceland

HE’S a former RAF survival skills instructor who recovered from breaking his back to conquer the world on a water ski, win gold medals as one of the fastest men on a sit-ski and take part in two winter Paralympics.

HE’S a former RAF survival skills instructor who recovered from breaking his back to conquer the world on a water ski, win gold medals as one of the fastest men on a sit-ski and take part in two winter Paralympics.

So when Sean Rose says that his next challenge is the most daunting of his life, you take notice.

The 40-year-old’s next project is to lead a team 300km across Europe’s largest glacier, Vatnajokull, navigating crevasse fields and dodging the seven active volcanoes on the way, trusting in 50kph wind to power their snow kites – and all in temperatures that can plunge as low as -40C.

He will be joined by fellow international athletes Tim Farr and Ben Hooper, who are also disabled, three “buddies”, a guide and technical support on the trip.

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They hope to film their trip for an inspirational documentary, simply to show others that it can be done, but Sean is in no doubt of the size of the task that will face the team next spring.

“This kind of thing has never been attempted before. And you have to ask yourself: If not, why not?” said Sean. “There are fully abled guys who go out there to the glacier and have trouble. When you take into consideration the dangers and the weather conditions, it’s more than anything I’ve ever done in my life.”

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The three kiters will use specially adapted snow-rigs, and will face challenges from pressure sores to frostbite as they adapt to life without their wheelchairs, as well as 12-hour days of kiting on the week-long trip.

“We’ve been learning independence since our accidents, but when we get on the snow we’ll be back to day one,” said Sean. “There is so much to learn, so much to think about.”

Crossing Vatnajokull is just the latest challenge for the adrenaline junkie from St Neots, who broke his back in a skiing accident in 2000, landing headfirst “like a javelin” and crushing a vertebra in his back which paralysed him from the chest down.

Five operations in five weeks followed, with the prospect of a long rehabilitation period, but Sean refused to accept the end of his sporting ambitions, making a list of sports he would still be able to compete in.

His spinal cord had not been completely severed and slowly he began to regain movement, enough to enable him to stand with support, though not walk.

He began to work again, but soon realised he would have to choose between his job and his sport.

“I made the decision to quit the job and see where sports would take me,” he said. “The will to win hadn’t been lost either and it wasn’t long before I’d thrown myself and all my funds into being a full-time athlete. It was a dream I’d had all my life: to be the best in the world at something.”

Sean made his debut for the British disabled water ski team at the World Championships in 2003, returning two years later to win the world title – and achieve his dream.

He added the European crown in 2006, the year he married his wife Leana, with whom he had a son, Thomas, in 2008.

By then he was competing for the British disabled ski team, winning medals and competing at the Torino 2006 Winter Paralympics.

Two downhill World Cup medals in 2009 were followed in 2010 by his greatest success – three more medals, including the first ever gold World Cup medal for a British alpine skier.

That high was followed by a low at the 2010 Vancouver Paralympics, when injury and equipment failures scuppered his chances.

Sean intends to use those experiences, good and bad, to strengthen him as he crosses Vatnajokull.

“When I started sit-skiing I never thought I’d be going downhill at 80mph – but I managed that. The glacier is one of the most inhospitable places on earth, but we think it is possible.”

INFORMATION: To support Sean on his trip, visit

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