Editors 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 Marys Bistro. Part one appeared in the Feb. 28-March 6, 2007, issue.
Brion and I continue enjoying our Marys Bistro breakfast. After gastric bypass surgery, Brion had to pace himself to finish his eggs and bacon. My granola scone, quiche and fruit cup didnt last as long.
Have you been married? I asked.
And divorced, he said.
Brion was on the Internets singles sites in 1999.
In March 1999, he got an e-mail from a Russian woman with a picture.
I thought, Oh, my God, shes beautifultall, thin brunette, just what I like, he said. And shes 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 didnt work out. After three and a half years, they divorced.
Were 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 masters plus, going for a doctorate in fine arts. She also has an associate (degree) in electrical engineering. Great gal.
Recently, Brions 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.
Its 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.
Its helping? I asked.
I guess, he said. They dont confer with me.
Brions worked on light vehicles and generators.
This changed your life? I asked.
The people (did), he said. Its 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 youre there, I said.
The last plane is March 1; you dont see another one til Aug. 20, he said. Its 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 doesnt 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 dont know, he said.
Youre a Hemingway guy, I said. Didnt 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. Its an event the New Zealanders put on every winter. You walk up in a towel…they put a harness around you. Theres 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 its kind of refreshing cause its 50 degrees warmer. You crawl out wet, and theres 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. Youre talking seconds. Theres 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, Ill start tomorrow, he responded.
I see you traveling, speaking, sharing the happiness youre finding in your work, the people, your adventures, I said. You have prospects of more and more of this, dont 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. Id 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.
Youve 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. Youre a handsome man.
That makes me uncomfortable, but its 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 email@example.com.
From the March 7-13, 2007, issue