Lunch with Marjorie: Living a real life down on the ice and at home—part two

Editor’s note: Brion Roberts decided at 521 pounds that he needed gastric bypass surgery. Now, at 44 years old, and 170 pounds lighter, his new life is filled with adventure and a hope for a brighter future. Here is part two of his story from Mary’s Bistro. Part one appeared in the Feb. 28-March 6, 2007, issue.

Brion and I continue enjoying our Mary’s Bistro breakfast. After gastric bypass surgery, Brion had to pace himself to finish his eggs and bacon. My granola scone, quiche and fruit cup didn’t last as long.

“Have you been married?” I asked.

“And divorced,” he said.

Brion was on the Internet’s singles sites in 1999.

In March 1999, he got an e-mail from a Russian woman with a picture.

“I thought, ‘Oh, my God, she’s beautiful—tall, thin brunette, just what I like’,” he said. “‘And she’s writing to me.’ I wrote back.”

He went to Moscow three times, married, and returned home with his bride and her two children. The marriage didn’t work out. After three and a half years, they divorced.

“We’re still friends,” he said. “She wanted to do good for her girls. I commend her for that. She is a nice woman, highly educated, a master’s plus, going for a doctorate in fine arts. She also has an associate (degree) in electrical engineering. Great gal.”

Recently, Brion’s life took another dramatic change, after he heard about the U.S. Antarctic Program (USAP) from a friend. With his new health and attitude, he signed up for two contracts, which kept him at the South Pole for a year.

USAP is part of an international treaty, signed in 1959 where participating countries established stations in Antarctica. Among the participants are Russia, Japan, South Africa, Chile, Australia, New Zealand, France, Germany and the United States.

“It’s science, atmospheric stuff,” Brion explained. “They launch a lot of balloons…measure ozone…humidity, wind speed, weather…thickness of the ionosphere, stratosphere…a lot of monitoring of satellite stuff.”

“It’s helping?” I asked.

“I guess,” he said. “They don’t confer with me.”

Brion’s worked on light vehicles and generators.

“This changed your life?” I asked.

“The people (did),” he said. “It’s a job. I worked six days a week, 54 hours a week. The pay is OK, and you get room and board, and they fly you down.”

“But then you’re there,” I said.

“The last plane is March 1; you don’t see another one ’til Aug. 20,” he said. “It’s 68 below, ambient temperature. Non-wind chill.”

“Is there wind there?” I said.

He looks incredulous.

“It blows all the time from every direction,” he said. “In Antarctica, we say the wind doesn’t blow, it sucks.”

“Animal life?” I asked.

“Penguin, seals, and a scavenger bird that eats the stuff they leave,” he said.

“What kind of fish?” I asked.

“I don’t know,” he said.

“You’re a Hemingway guy,” I said. “Didn’t you jump in and look?”

“No, I made a hole in the ice and jumped into it,” he said. “It was the experience of a lifetime. The Polar Plunge. It’s an event the New Zealanders put on every winter. You walk up in a towel…they put a harness around you. There’s a 10-foot square hole cut in the ice, and you jump in, swim around, and climb out. I jumped in, hit bottom, pushed off, turned around and went for the ladder. The ambient temperature was 25 below up on top. You jump into the water, and it’s kind of refreshing ’cause it’s 50 degrees warmer. You crawl out wet, and there’s wind. They strip the harness off quickly, throw a blanket around you, point to the hut and say ‘run.’ By the time you get there, the tops of your shoes are starting to frost up. You’re talking seconds. There’s an ambulance…all kinds of survivalist mountaineers.”

He plans to return to the ice after the psychological testing in Denver. If accepted again, he will fly from Chicago to Los Angeles to Auckland to Christchurch on the south island. Then, they get all their gear in New Zealand and deploy on a National Guard C-17 and fly 2,500 miles down to the pole.

“Do you journal?” I asked.

“No,” he said.

“Why not?” I said.

“OK, I’ll start tomorrow,” he responded.

“I see you traveling, speaking, sharing the happiness you’re finding in your work, the people, your adventures,” I said. “You have prospects of more and more of this, don’t you? A life!”

“A real life, Marjorie,” he said.

“What are the top places you still want to see?” I asked.

“The seven wonders of the world,” he said. “I’d like to go to Vietnam. I graduated from high school 30 days after Saigon fell. It was the war I could have been potentially involved in.”

“You’ve waited your whole life to really live,” I said.

“This is my time…today, and tomorrow and the next day,” he said.

“You look great,” I said. “You’re a handsome man.”

“That makes me uncomfortable, but it’s OK,” he said.

Marjorie Stradinger is a free-lance writer residing in Roscoe. She has covered food, drama, entertainment, health, and business for publications in California and Illinois for the past 25 years. She can be reached via e-mail at

From the March 7-13, 2007, issue

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