Posted by: Omar C. Garcia | January 27, 2016

The Death of Henry Worsley

Last November, I posted a blog entitled Across Antarctica Alone — the story of Henry Worsley and his determination to be the first person to walk across the Antarctic landmass, unsupported and unassisted. Worsley had a lifelong fascination with Ernest Shackelton whose failed attempt to cross Antarctica during the Heroic Age of Antarctic Exploration turned into the most epic survival story in the history of exploration.

Henry Worsley
Henry Worsley’s distant cousin Frank was the captain of the Endurance, the ship that carried Shackelton and his men to Antarctica. In December 1914, the Endurance became trapped in an ice pack in the Wedell Sea and was later crushed, leaving Shackelton and his men stranded. To make a long story short, Frank Worsley’s exceptional navigation skills were instrumental in the eventual rescue of every man on the team.

A hundred years after Shackelton’s attempt to complete the first crossing of the Antarctic Continent, Worsley set off on his commemorative Trans-Antarctic adventure. As a retired British officer, Worsley also used his expedition to raise funds for wounded soldiers. His goal was to raise at least a hundred thousand dollars to help his injured comrades. Worsley surpassed his fundraising goal.

For the past several weeks I have followed Worsley’s adventure with great interest. Thanks to the marvels of modern technology, I listened to his satellite phone dispatches from the frozen continent. I also followed his Instagram feed and congratulated him when he reached the South Pole on January 2. Worsley also used his satellite phone time to answer questions about science and exploration submitted by school children.

Henry Worsley Selfie
Last week, after pulling his supply laden sledge to within 30 miles of his goal, Worsley was caught in the teeth of a fierce snow storm. Exhausted, he made the tough decision to call Antarctic Logistics and Explorations to request a rescue. “My journey is at an end,” the emotional Worsley said. “I have run out of time and physical endurance – the simple, sheer inability to slide one ski in front of the other to cover the distance required to reach my goal.”

Worsley was airlifted to Punta Arenas, Chile, where he was found to have bacterial peritonitis – an infection in the abdomen and indication that he had liver damage. Sadly, the fifty-five year old Worsley lapsed into complete organ failure and died on Sunday, January 24. Over the past few days the news of his death has prompted commentary and comments ranging from praise to criticism.

The reality is that men like Worsley and all who engage in extreme outdoor pursuits, from climbing rugged mountains to paddling down raging rivers, know that there is always a possibility that things can go wrong. And no matter how careful we are to mitigate risk, the unexpected can happen, even while on a leisurely stroll through a local park. The question is, will we allow the possibility of something bad happening keep us from risking and pursuing our dreams?

I personally admire Worsley for pursuing his dream to walk across Antarctica. Worsley reminds us that the only way to redefine the geography of our own lives is by pushing the boundaries. And even though he fell just a few miles short of reaching his goal, he got a lot farther than if he had allowed his fears to keep him at home. Ultimately, every one of us will either die in the stands or in the arena. Worsley died in the arena. He died while daring greatly.

As for Worsley’s critics, Teddy Roosevelt said it best in a speech that he gave in Paris in 1910:

“It is not the critic who counts; not the man who points out how the strong man stumbles, or where the doer of deeds could have done them better. The credit belongs to the man who is actually in the arena, whose face is marred by dust and sweat and blood; who strives valiantly; who errs, who comes short again and again, because there is no effort without error and shortcoming; but who does actually strive to do the deeds; who knows great enthusiasms, the great devotions; who spends himself in a worthy cause; who at the best knows in the end the triumph of high achievement, and who at the worst, if he fails, at least fails while daring greatly, so that his place shall never be with those cold and timid souls who neither know victory nor defeat.”

Rest in peace, Henry.


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