Richard Parks is a former Wales international rugby union player, who has transformed himself into an extreme endurance athlete and television presenter. During his 13 year rugby career, Richard Parks represented Newport RFC, Pontypridd RFC, Celtic Warriors, Leeds Tykes, Perpignan and Newport Gwent Dragons. During his career, Richard was known as a hard and prolific tackler in his position of a back row forward. He also won the Principality Cup during his time playing for Pontypridd, and later the Powergen Cup with Leeds. In May 2009, Richard Parks was forced to make the difficult decision to retire from rugby, due to a shoulder injury. Remarkably, Richard decided to become an athlete of a different kind. Instead of rugby, he would take on extreme expeditions and challenges, pushing the boundaries of human performance. Richard Parks has twice made history with two amazing feats of endurance. Firstly, he completed a world first expedition called the 737 challenge, in which he became the first person ever to climb the highest mountain on each of the world’s 7 continents, and stand on all 3 poles (North Pole, South Pole and summit of Everest), in just 7 months. If that mind blowing feat wasn’t enough, in 2014 Richard Parks also became the first Brit to ski solo, unsupported and unassisted to the South Pole. His incredible achievements have allowed Richard to serve his country as a Sport Wales board member. A prolific achiever, I was over the moon to have the opportunity to talk books with Richard. Please enjoy my interviewed with the amazing Richard Parks…
When someone asks you ‘what do you do for a living?’ – How do you respond?
That’s always a tough question for me because I wear so many different hats. At my core I’m a professional athlete, but much of time is devoted to using my expeditions and skills to enable and encourage others – through my work with my corporate clients, the Welsh Government, or my role as a Sport Wales board member. I’ve also begun working on a concept for my second book. I love the variety of my life, but what connects all the dots is service to my country and encouraging others in their life’s mountains.
I’m reading a few books at the moment, I enjoy being able to escape into different places at different times. I’m reading two books about Shackleton, who was one of Britain’s most eminent explorers during the heroic age of polar exploration along with Scott. Shackleton: A Life In Poetry by Jim Mayer chronicling Shackleton’s love of poetry including extracts from his own writings in his diary. The second is a leadership book, Shackleton’s Way by Margot Morrell and Stephanie Capparell. which is a really interesting book discussing the leadership skills and strategies used by Sir Ernest Shackleton. Finally, I’m reading a book on emotional intelligence. I enjoy being transported somewhere else, but also like to learn and feel richer for the time.
If you could encourage young people to read one book in particular, what would it be?
Anything that interests or excites them! There are no rules, reading is a wonderful opportunity to be completely immersed and transported to alternate realities – putting the phone down, unplugging and exercising your imagination has always been nourishing, but I feel it’s becoming even more important.
What is the worst job you’ve ever had?
A glass collector in a bar! I loved working behind the bar especially as it was a cocktail bar which was a real challenge and so much fun, but before I got that job I had to work my way up through collecting glasses!
Do you read as much as you’d like to?
No. Although the therapeutic benefits (that I mentioned above) from reading are becoming more important to me.
I didn’t realise I had a career path! Ha! Anything that inspires you to get out there…there are so many wonderful books in this area, although I personally don’t enjoy the macho ones, I prefer something sharing insight into the cerebral, spiritual or historical side of pushing ourselves as that’s been my experience of my projects – it’s a very introspective journey despite the external battle. For example, Don’t Give Up, Don’t Give In by Louis Zamperini and David Rensin or 1912: The Year The World Discovered Antarctica by Chris Turney or Microadventures by Alastair Humphreys are all different but you’ll be left richer for reading them in my opinion.
Is there a book that you’ve read more than once? What is it and why did you revisit it?
To be honest I’m not sure that there is? Maybe It’s Not About The Bike by Lance Armstrong. Regardless of what his story has become, this book was inspirational to me during a difficult period of my life when my Dad was diagnosed with Stomach cancer. There’s no justifying or excusing his behaviour towards other humans and I’m not going to get into an ethical debate regarding the widespread use of drugs at that time, but the way this book illuminated the human spirit transcending cycling and sport was inspirational at the time for me.
What book have you recommended the most to friends and family?
Probably The Chimp Paradox by Steve Peters. There’re some parts of Steve Peter’s philosophy and writing that I find difficult to swallow and at times the book is a little evangelistic, however, the way he has simplified the complex cognitive of our mind to help others understand their behaviors is powerful as I believe self-awareness is critical on the path to contentment.
What’s your favourite genre of book?
You’ll have guessed by now that it’s non-fiction. I love enriching and educating myself through reading, although I also love being transported away.
What do you think a world without books would be like?
Is there an author whose writing you’re such a fan of, that you’ll read everything they release?
Not really as my preferences don’t really lean towards that.
Do you think digital books will ever completely replace real books?
I hope they don’t! I use technology when it enriches my life – audio books and digital ones on expeditions for example, but it would be a sad day in my opinion if we lost sharing and passing along
the battered book!
What book do you feel humanity needs right now?
Wow, this is a tough one! Could it be serialised on Twitter!?
Honestly…writing my first book Beyond the Horizon. The self awareness I’ve gained through finding the courage to share my deepest emotions through the wonderful roller coaster of my 737 Challenge and Antarctic speed record expeditions has been so enriching to me.
Are there any books you haven’t mentioned that you feel would make your reading list?
I was involved in Welsh Government’s Year of Adventure last year and part of the campaign celebrated the written adventures of Roald Dahl. One of my goals for this year is to revisit some my childhood favourites of his, as I was inspired seeing and hearing the wonderful stories brought to life in various forms last year.
What books or subject matter do you plan on reading in the next year?
I have Spare Brides by Adel Parks (no relation!) on my list for this year. It’s a very different book from my normal reading, but Adel inspired me to widen my reading after meeting her at the Guildford and Dubai literary festivals. Antarctica will inevitably be on my list somewhere too, as will Roald Dahl.
If you were to write an autobiography – what would it be called?
Beyond the Horizon is an autobiographical account of a 5 year period of my life. The title came from a sentence from my late grandmother’s funeral eulogy which was deeply impactful to me. The sentence ‘The horizon is only the limit of our sight’, helped me find the courage to climb out of a very dark period in my life following my career ending injury and was the catalyst to this wonderful chapter in my life.