Luke Robertson studied French and history at Glasgow. As a student, he was told he needed to be fitted with a pacemaker. The operation happened the day after his final exam. Then, in 2014, he underwent brain surgery to remove a suspected tumour.
Luke overcame these challenges and many more on his journey to become the first Scot and youngest person from the UK to complete a solo, unassisted and unsupported trek to the South Pole in 2016. During the 40-day expedition, he was completely alone for 730 miles, travelling across the highest, driest, coldest and windiest continent on Earth.
Luke is an ambassador for the Polar Academy, the Greener Scotland Campaign and charity Marie Curie. His expedition to the South Pole raised £74,000 for the charity, which provides support for people living with terminal illnesses.
A keen runner, he has undertaken long distance endurance events such as the Ben Nevis Triathlon, and Ten Peaks Ultra. His most recent challenge saw him run 250 miles to complete the Cape Wrath Ultra Marathon Expedition.
“I studied French and history at Glasgow, and it was the most enjoyable and formative time; I made friends for life. But when I was studying for my final exams, I was told that I’d need a pacemaker. The only person I knew then who had a pacemaker was my granddad, and he had been over ninety, so it was a bit of a shock to me, the day after my final exam, to be in the Western General Hospital.
That really put it to me that it was about time I did something I really wanted to do. I started putting a few plans together. But trekking to the South Pole isn’t a Thomas Cook holiday, so it took a few years. There are so many aspects to it: thousands of emails; thousands of hours of training; expeditions; lots of packing equipment. And then, when I was about to head off, I was diagnosed with a brain tumour.
I was sitting on the hospital bed before brain surgery, and I had absolutely no idea if I was going to wake up; I had no idea what was going to happen. I was told I’d be in hospital for nine months. But then what had been diagnosed as a tumour turned out to be a cyst and so that wasn’t the case: I was out within two or three weeks.
I had been doing triathlons and ultra-running and a lot of weights sessions, which I had to put on hold for about nine months, but needless to say, I had to go back to those after I’d recovered. And then there was the psychological element. In a way I was lucky to have gone through surgery and recovery because it made me stronger as a person and made me push through the harder times.
When it came to the actual expedition itself, I didn’t know what to expect. At points on my trip across Antarctica I was closer to the International Space Station than any congregation of humans. So that gave me an edge of uncertainty, a feeling of risk-taking, but there was also excitement there as well.
It surpassed all of my expectations. More difficult; more enjoyable; more rewarding; more challenging – it took me to places in my head I’ve never encountered before and probably won’t again. It made me realise that I can push myself quite a lot and it made me realise what motivates me.
I gave myself accountability at the start by deciding to raise money for Marie Curie. My original target was twenty five thousand pounds but in total, I’ve now raised about seventy four thousand. I’ve received over eleven hundred donations from friends, family, people I’ve never met and from countries all over the world.
Before I even left, I had emails from people from all walks of life that had gone through brain surgery or had heart issues - some of them quite afraid of doing anything. I had letters and pictures from school kids who were tracking me as well, so when I came back I tried to reply to everyone who had been in touch and send out some fluffy penguins because it’s amazing to think that something you’ve done can affect a child and perhaps one day they’ll go away and do what they want to do.
I don’t expect everyone to go through brain surgery or heart surgery and go to the South Pole. But everyone’s got their own challenges in life and everyone can find it difficult to overcome them. Sometimes it’s about just taking that first step out of your metaphorical tent, because if there’s one thing I’ve learnt, it’s that you’ll surprise yourself at how far you can go.”