I grew up on two wheels and with a spirit of adventure

Both my parents were self-employed engineers, and they had that can-do attitude. I started racing motorbikes when I was six, and my happiest childhood memories are on the side of a freezing mountain in Aberdare, struggling to feel my fingers, dad working on my bike and mum cooking for everyone around. I loved it.

I love cycling, and one of the best sporting events I’ve ever been to was the Abergavenny Festival of Cycling. Every generation in the community was out in the streets, watching kids aged eight or nine, ripping around on tiny bikes, all the way up to the pros, all racing on the same circuit. It was incredible – everything that sport should be.

Richard Parks explores Wales. Starting inland his journey takes him through countryside down to the coast  

I’ve always been all-or-nothing

When I lost my motorcycling sponsorship, that’s when I focused my attention on rugby. Every young boy and girl grows up wanting to play for Wales. There’s something magical about wearing the red jersey. But for me it was also about being the best I could be.

I spent a hugely important year in South Africa. When I was 17 I was awarded a scholarship to Michaelhouse College in KwaZulu-Natal. It was just after apartheid and I was the first and only black student in the First XV. I grew up years in that one year. It opened my eyes to professionalism: it wasn’t about money, it was about how you apply yourself to your trade. We were a school team training three times a day and playing in front of 14,000 people.

Any step outside our comfort zone is a vital step to self-knowledge and, ultimately, happiness."

I’ve had some tough times and dark periods, like everyone. Life is a journey with good times and bad times. I feel really passionately about using all life experience to enrich us. I feel so grateful to be here right now.

A silhouette of a man standing on the edge of a mountain at dusk
Richard Parks climbing in Eryri (Snowdonia) National Park

Mountains gave me peace

My rugby career was taken away from me by injury, and it’s only in the past few years I’ve been able to work through the emotions, both positive and negative, and finally realise I was so lucky to play for my country. That peace has been one of the biggest gifts that mountains have given to me: I’m able to love rugby again.

It doesn’t have to be fun to be fun. Fun can mean challenge, satisfaction and achievement, as well as laughing and joking and spending time with people. Some of the happiest moments of my life have come after some of the toughest trials and tribulations. I’m happier if I’ve earnt something.

There’s always a crossroads

Every single mountain I’ve climbed or endurance event I’ve done has had a moment of doubt. That’s what I take from what I do. In a society that is full of instant gratification, I love the purity of having a goal and getting to the top and having to work around the challenges to get there.

I fell into a crevasse on Denali. That was genuinely the scariest moment of my life. I wasn’t sure how I was going to get out of that alive.

a man riding a mountain bike
A mountain bike leaning on a fence in front of a waterfall
man carrying a mountain bike
Richard Parks mountain biking in Eryri (Snowdonia) National Park

Antarctica was the hardest

I pushed my body physically and psychologically further than I’d ever gone before. I went into rooms in my soul that I wasn’t aware were there. I had brutal days, skiing in a whiteout for 12 hours. Then there were moments when the sun was in just the right place, and the snow crystals refracted the sun so it looked like you were skiing across a bed of diamonds, and for that half-hour it could be euphoric. If we can recognise those moments, that’s what makes life rich.

Valleys culture makes us special

I’m from Pontypridd, and we take that sense of community and friendliness all over the world. For a small nation, we embody the spirit of adventure. Look at the settlement in Patagonia 150 years ago – we’ve always been up for a challenge.

I love where I live in Cardiff Bay

Captain Scott’s ship, the Terra Nova, set sail from here and it captivates me that I live in this hotbed of Welsh polar heritage. It never stops giving, the layers of history underneath, the men and women who’ve gone before. And you can’t climb in Eryri (Snowdonia) without being aware of Mallory and Irvine, Hillary and Tenzing.

Richard Parks sat outside his tent, camping in Wales
Richard Parks in Eryri (Snowdonia) National Park

Every time I come home I see Wales through new eyes

For all the places I’m privileged to visit and experience, it’s only ever made me appreciate the wealth we have on our doorstep even more. In some ways I never leave home. I carry the same Welsh flag everywhere with me, and I’m really proud that when I’m not on expeditions it lives in the Principality Stadium’s Players’ Lounge.

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