Dean Mumm's deeply personal North Pole trek

By Pete Fairbairn, 21.03.18

You would certainly understand if former Wallaby, Waratahs and Exeter Chiefs star Dean Mumm was slightly humoured by the cancellation of last weekend’s Anglo-Welsh Cup Final in Gloucester, western England.

His former side, who he played with over four seasons before returning to Australia, were due to face Bath however heavy snow saw the fixture postponed.

Temperatures at Kingsholm Stadium did drop as low as -9 degrees Celsius, and the welfare of all players, officials and supporters is paramount, so there’s certainly no argument with the sensible decision that was made – more so a chuckle, at how warm -9 sounds, in comparison to what he has signed himself up for.

You see, Mumm will temporarily depart Sydney, and the desk job he only started at insurance brokers JLT in August, later this week on a very important and unbelievably challenging and brave mission.

Mumm, who served as RUPA President in 2017 and retired from playing Rugby in July, will be trekking the North Pole to raise much needed funds and awareness for a cause incredibly personal to him, UK-based premature birth research foundation Borne.

“The journey is 100km over four or five days,” Mumm explains to RUPA, "and the temperature there on the weekend was -28!

“That’s certainly pretty different from what it was in Sydney on Sunday (where it hit 40 degrees as the Waratahs defeated the Rebels), and obviously I can’t acclimatise for that here. I’m off to London for a little while and then it’s off to Norway, to a town called Longyearbyen, where I need to further acclimatise and actually learn how to cross country ski, before we depart for the North Pole from Russia.

“To be fair, I saw a note from our guide saying that -30 is the ideal temperature to be attempting this as the ice will be nice and stable. If it was too much warmer it means that the ice is a bit tricky, so I am happy for it to stay where it currently is; it sounds like a weird thing to expose yourself to for eight hours of the day, but that’s just the reality of it.”

There is no doubting that this remarkable trek is deeply personal. Dean and his wife Sarah lost two premature babies, daughter Sophie (2012) and son Henry (2014). Just days before Dean led his country for the first time against Uruguay at the Rugby World Cup, they welcomed a healthy baby boy in Alfie.

There are eight of us on the trip,” Mumm said. “We’re trying to do something about it, trying to make a difference, trying to raise money and stop it. Premature birth is the No 1 cause of death and disability in children under five. 75% of all disabilities are attributed to premature birth. So many things in the development of a child happen when they’re inside the womb, so it’s important from a research point of view just to keep children in there.”

Among the group accompanying Mumm to the North Pole will be Rugby World Cup winning England centre and Borne patron Will Greenwood, whose first child Freddie was born at 22 weeks and lived for less than an hour.

“I first met Will about eighteen months before my son was born in 2015,” Mumm explains. “He, like us, lost his first child in a really similar manner, and saw an interview with him opening up and speaking about it.

“I reached out and spoke to him about what we’d been through, and within two hours of speaking with him he put us in contact with his obstetrician in London, a guy that ultimately delivered Alfie and has delivered Will’s three kids and is a wonderful man and the founder of this charity.

“I certainly wouldn’t have been able to do any of this if Will hadn’t initially been brave enough to tell his story, so I think this illustrates the power of speaking up. It’s a credit to him and his wife that they did that and have now told it many times in a public stance.

“Now, aside from being somebody who had a very successful Rugby career, Will is also doing some remarkable things and having a significant impact and inspiring others to do the same. He is a patron of the charity, and with his personal fundraising he has raised over £300,00 pound which is a tremendous effort. Will’s certainly a figurehead of what we’re trying to do with Borne and global research.”

From a fundraising perspective, Dean’s no slouch himself. He’s already raised well over $100,000, with the recent Dinner for Borne a crucial part of that effort.

“It was a pretty important event for us, our first dinner and really the first opportunity to build awareness of the charity here in Australia, being a UK-based charity,” he said. “We managed through significant wrangling of our friends to get 520 people in the room, which was a huge dinner, and all up we raised about $145,000 that night which was a great start for us.

“We have had a lot of people make significant contributions. Guy Reynolds at Macquarie Bank was a huge help in donating his fishing lodge in New Zealand as an auction item, which was a great thing to do, and the people here at JLT have been great in supporting me and giving money to the trek and the charity both here and in the UK. So many people have been so generous – Ice Breaker have even come to the party with crucial clothing and equipment for me, for the trek.

“My wife Sarah has done a huge amount of work, and she has been able to get over the fact that I need to be up at 5am to do the training; she really has been a tremendous support. Several of her friends were also on a committee organising the dinner and will help us out going forwards in getting prizes, and what you realise when you start doing this is that there are so many people out there willing to donate things and donate time to a worthy cause.”

But for now, it’s time to turn his focus to the physical challenge at hand, and it’s a daunting one.

“We will be staying three to a tent, which is going to be a little cramped but will bring a fair bit of extra warmth hopefully,” he jokes, pointing to his near 200cm frame.

“You need to drink around six litres of water a day individually and consume about 6000 calories, which is about two-and-a-half times what you would normally have. I’m assuming all of it will be freeze-dried that you have to rehydrate by adding water, so it will take a fair while to get your grub ready.

“In terms of Rugby, I always preferred to play in cold weather than when it was really hot and having a couple of years in the UK might help, but obviously this is still a lot colder than it ever got in Exeter! I’m not a natural camper, so all of these things will be taking me out of my comfort zone and it’s a bit sink or swim, but I really trust the people around me and I have been assured that the guide is going to be sweet as he’s done about fifteen trips!

He has been training for months, losing nearly 10kg since retirement and lugging tractor tires around the eastern suburbs beaches in the early morning before putting on a (slightly baggy) suit and jumping on the bus to head into the city for work.

“I’m naturally a pretty skinny guy and I spent a lot of time in bulking groups while I was playing, so it’s certainly a very different type of training to Rugby in that it is long and repetitive sessions rather than the high intensity stuff.

“A couple of weeks ago I realised that I was probably a bit too skinny, so I have been on a little bit of a fatten up program for the last few weeks and trying to put a bit of tub on; it seems to work for other animals as a survival instinct, so why not me? I’ve also got ten days in London before we start and that’s a good way to fatten anybody up with plenty of Yorkshire puddings and a few pints.”

When he returns, as well as being straight back to the day job Dean will also be resuming his position on the RUPA Board, after being formally elected as a Co-Opted Director earlier this month. It’s a role he’s really looking forward to.

“2017 was a pretty tumultuous year for Australian Rugby with a fair bit going on, and not withstanding it all I thoroughly enjoyed my time as President.

“The more you get involved, the more you realise that RUPA represents all players and I think it does a really good job of that, so to be able to remain involved while also giving (new president) Damien Fitzpatrick the opportunity to make his mark, I’m really pleased to be involved. It’s one of my last links to Rugby currently so I’m grateful for the chance.”

Dean is fundraising in Australia to appoint a Borne Fellow at Hunter Medical Research Institute (HMRI), to work with Borne on preterm birth research. If you are in Australia, you can make tax-deductible contributions through Everyday Hero or to HMRI directly.

Pete Fairbairn
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