Cool Luke doesn’t need a hand in Polar challenge

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A former Selston soldier who beat horrific leg injuries to become a world class athlete risked sub zero temperatures and Polar bears to take part in the World’s coolest race.

Brave runner Luke Wigman beat some of the world’s best athletes to come second in the gruelling North Pole Marathon.

Luke suffered life-changing injuries when he stepped on an Improved Explosive Device while on foot patrol in Afghanistan in 2011.

But the determined 27-year-old has fought back to become a respected international competitor and his story has become an inspiration for disabled athletes.

The North Pole Marathon is held every year at Barneo Ice Camp, a unique Russian-operated drift station on the frozen Arctic Ocean, with about 50 runners taking part.

“It is something I just had to do,” said Luke, who paid for the trip himself.

Before the event, Luke flew out to Longyearbyen the most northerly town in the world - the last stop off point between here and the North Pole.

He said: “I went out there five days before to get used to the temperature and to do a few training runs.

“There were a lot of well known athletes there. Mark Wardian from America won it, he’s the four-times 50k champ and the world 100k silver medal holder.

“It was incredible to even be in the same race as him and to come runner up was unbelievable.”

He said conditions were tougher than usual on the day and the organisers had to make it a 12-lap course spread over 26.2 miles.

Temperatures were between 30-40 below zero and the wind chill made it a lot worse running in the deep, energy-sapping snow.

Most people chose to stop every lap and there were heater tents for them to get warmed through.

Said Luke: “I stopped at eight laps in when I realised I couldn’t feel my nose. You have to think about frostbite and check yourself as often as possible.”

He stopped for a quick snack and carried on, completing the course in five hours and three minutes.

Other competitors took more than 12 hours to complete the challenge.

“When you are running in those conditions a marathon time is pretty much doubled. I was really enthused by it,” said Luke.

The race is marshalled by armed stewards as there are thousands of Polar bears in the area. In 2011 a Polar Bear bit into the head of a British tourist at Longyearbyen after sneaking into his tent.

“I didn’t see any when I was there - but you never know do you?” said Luke.

On the day of the event the athletes were flown by helicopter to stand on the actual North Pole.

In September 2011 Luke was on foot patrol in a compound in Sangin when he stepped in an Improvised Explosive Device (IED).

The explosion blew away chunks of flesh from his lower leg between his knee and shin.

He said: “I was mentoring Afghan soldiers at the time and I had to administer First Aid myself”

He was hospitalised for five weeks and spent a further year building up his strength before he was medically discharged from the regiment in December last year.

His perseverance and training paid off and is able to run a 26 mile Marathon in 2hrs 40 mins. He is hoping to shave another 10 minutes off this amazing achievement.

“If you are determined you will make it happen. I enjoy my running. It just keeps me going,” he said

Luke is now apart time Emergency Care Assistant for East Midland Ambulance Service.

In 2013 in competed in an aquathlon (swim followed by a run), two half distance triathlons and a few half marathons and 10k runs. Last September he came second in the Mablethorpe half marathon.

His next challenge is a Volcano Marathon in chile at 15,000 ft altitude in November.

And in a year’s time he wants to repeat the polar opposite of this year’s his chilling experience by tackling the Antarctic Ice Marathon.