“I’m still in awe of the Arctic challenge. I have memories imprinted in my head and heart”

Owen Campbell is a business owner based in Limerick. He took part in the First Light for Sight challenge in January 2023 and raised more than €10,000.

Here, Owen shares his experience of preparing for the Arctic challenge, and offers future fundraisers some tips on how to make the most of the expedition.

Were you a Sightsavers supporter before you signed up for the challenge?

No, I knew nothing about Sightsavers. But in hindsight, I would have seen some of the Sightsavers adverts on TV from time to time.

What motivated you to get involved?

I saw the challenge advertised on Facebook and I’d always wanted to go to the Arctic, to experience the ice and extreme environment. I’m interested in travel and the outdoors, and I have experience with wild camping and travelling across different terrains on a motorbike.

What kind of training did you do before the challenge?

I’m 58 and I wouldn’t consider myself fit! I started walking at the end of last summer. There’s a lovely park near where I live and it’s about a 2.5km circuit. I invested in a pair of Air Pods to beat the boredom and listened to some great podcasts and audiobooks; I had one on Shackleton so that really brought it all together. I then started cycling and using my daughter’s cross-trainer. Each week I would do around 20-30km of walking, 20km of cycling and anywhere from 10-20km on CrossFit.

How did you feel in the lead-up?

There was a little bit of worry, but to be honest, I was full of hyper energy and excitement. Every time I got a donation it motivated me more and more. It helped me beat the worry because I wasn’t just doing it for myself, but also for all the people who were supporting me. After months of training, I’d lost a fair bit of weight, so I also felt great. I knew I was feeling better both physically and mentally so that all helped.

How did you find the challenge?

I found the adventure brilliant and life-changing. I was running on adrenaline the entire time. It’s only when I’m looking back at photos and videos that I realise how extreme the environment was. I was on a high the whole time. I would go back there in the morning if I could!

What was the highlight?

My highlight was the overnight challenge to the mountain cabin: leaving the base chalet in the early hours and coming back something like 36 hours later. Incredible. I loved every bit of it.

On our second night in Finland, we had an incredible display of the Northern Lights. After everyone else had gone back to their chalets, I stayed outside just marvelling quietly and for a few moments, I saw a meteor shower. It was unbelievable. You can’t put it into words really.

How did you feel when you saw the first sunrise?

The whole journey up to that moment was pure adrenaline. I felt very emotional. I shed a few tears and took some time for myself. I think it all caught up with me, all the months of planning, talking it up and training, to finally make it and see the sunrise. I won’t forget it.

What did you learn about Sightsavers throughout the challenge?

I knew nothing about Sightsavers and even less about eye conditions before taking on the challenge. I didn’t really know anything about trachoma or cataracts and what really amazed me was how little it costs to treat these conditions. Sightsavers is my charity now.

How did you find the fundraising?

I’d never done any fundraising; I was a complete greenhorn. I didn’t know what to do or where to begin. I started with posters and flyers in my local business, with a sponsorship form on the counter for any customers who wanted to support me.

Then I actively began approaching businesses I worked with and those in the local area, and I was blown away by the response. A lot of people knew about Sightsavers, and some were already supporters, so it was a well-known charity and cause that people were familiar with.

When the fundraising started to take off it became a bit of a race. I kept pushing and pushing to raise as much as I could. Family and friends were a great support too. Everyone contributed.

How did you find

Ronan and his team from were incredibly professional, everything was planned a certain way for a reason. One thing that really stood out to me from our first training day in Wicklow was when Ronan said that the hardest part is going to be learning how to stay warm, and fundraising. I knew very little about the body in hindsight, nothing about the core or circulation; I hadn’t even heard of Merino wool before.

Any message or advice for anyone considering doing the challenge in 2024?

Clothing: invest in your base layers, especially Merino wool. Another piece of advice that I remember from Ronan at is: “The fitter you are, the more you’ll enjoy it.”

Soak up every minute of it: the atmosphere, the environment, the Northern Lights. You won’t experience anything like it. I’m still in awe of the challenge. I have memories imprinted in my head and heart.

Fundraiser Owen Campbell
Owen felt incredibly moved when he watched the first sunrise of the year in the Arctic.

Want to find out more about First Light for Sight?

About the challenge