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MAUL OF THE WILD; ADVENTURER FINDS RUGBY BUZZ IN MOUNTAINS.

Byline: CIARAN JONES

IRON man Richard Parks believes he has finally found a way to replicate the buzz of his rugby career through his new life as an adventurer.

The former Wales international - forced to quit the game due to a shoulder injury in May 2009 - took on the world-first 737 Challenge in a bid to heal his heartache after his playing days were cut short.

And after becoming the first person ever to stand on the highest peaks of all seven continents and trek to both Poles in the same calendar year, the 34-year-old told Wales on Sunday he has finally managed to rediscover his love of the game.

And Parks, who has just returned from scaling 22,841ft Aconcagua in the Andes, said the morning of a summit assault was the closest thing he had experienced to a pre-match dressing room since retiring. The former Pontypridd, Leeds, Perpignan and Newport Gwent Dragons flanker said: "There are huge differences between performing in extreme environments - whether climbing or at the Poles - and rugby, but some similarities and summit day is probably the closest thing to that changing room.

"It's not so much the banter because inevitably summit day is launched from a pretty high altitude.

"This time we woke up at 6,500m - higher than the summit of Kilimanjaro - after a night of 70mph winds. That was pretty savage and I didn't sleep.

"It's just that energy, the nerves, excitement and anticipation, that sort of feeling as you get your gear on in the tent and you know you've got a pretty tough day ahead of you. That's what you're there for.

"The excitement and the nerves - it's very similar to the emotions and the adrenaline."

Parks, who is aiming to raise pounds 1m in aid of Marie Curie Cancer Care by July through the challenge, added: "It's a real blessing to me because I'm really grateful to be able to say I've drawn a line under my career now as a result of the challenge and what's happened in the last two years.

"But I still miss rugby and that's natural. I love watching it now and I really mean that. I didn't even enjoy watching it as a player but watching it has been fantastic, both regional rugby and the national team doing well." Parks, right, who has so far raised more than pounds 280,000 through his challenge, attempted a more technical route on Aconcagua.

But his plan to traverse the mountain by approaching and climbing the east side and descending the north side had to be changed due to "pretty marginal conditions" with the weather.

He had planned to climb the Polish Glacier - the last vertical kilometre of the mountain - but high winds, crevasses and the threat of avalanches meant he was forced to abandon the bid.

Parks, capped four times by Wales, instead climbed the False Polish Glacier, traversing round the side of the mountain and joining the more commonly-used route to the top for the last stretch.

Next month he will join a team of Welsh stars - including former boxing champion Joe Calzaghe and rugby legend Gareth Thomas - in the Sport Relief First Nation Home challenge, featuring teams from England, Ireland, Scotland and Wales racing around the UK.

Parks said he was determined to help Wales to victory.

"We've got a great team and I'm pretty excited.

I find it very difficult to do anything half-heartedly and I think we've got a really good chance of winning it."

In April, he will lead a trek to Everest base camp with a number of members of the public in aid of Marie Curie, before returning to Denali - the highest peak in North America - in May.

And he said he had "hit the ground running" since his return from Argentina in his efforts to raise pounds 1m for charity by the summer.

"Whatever happens in July, I know I can hold my head up high and know we have done the very best. I'm very proud of what I and the team and the general public have achieved."

Parks' endeavours have seen him nominated alongside Little Britain star David Walliams and former England cricket captain Michael Vaughan in the Celebrity Fundraiser of the Year category at the JustGiving awards, with the winner to be announced in London on Thursday, March 1. * To support Richard Parks in his challenge to raise pounds 1m in aid of Marie Curie, visit www.737challenge.com Thrills are alive: Richard Parks on Andes' Aconcagua
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Publication:Wales On Sunday (Cardiff, Wales)
Geographic Code:4EUUK
Date:Feb 19, 2012
Words:753
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