The Extraordinary Underdog cont…
Huddled in a cold draughty barn in the middle of Dartmoor, I met the team responsible for the whole weekend to find the first female team to walk the North Pole. Headed by the Polar Explorer Pen Hadow and Caroline Hamilton, the idea was to select a group of 20 women who would walk from land to the North Pole in relay format with two female guides. A feat that had never before been attempted. It was an ambitious endeavor full of pitfalls and dangers but they were both confident of their success and I believed if anybody could do it, these two could. Whether that confidence covered my ability or not I was less sure about.
We slept in the barn and the next day set off as dawn broke to hike across Dartmoor in the pouring rain. We had guides to ensure we were safe, but we marched for hours upon hours to one bleak destination and then another. I was completely unprepared for the experience and was in pain after the first ten minutes, my back hurt, my feet hurt. It was horrendous and I wanted to go home every second I was out there. The other girls seemed to take it in their stride and I was a mess. I quietly sobbed when it got dark and I could be sure no one could see me. I simply put one foot in front of the other and willed myself forward every step of the way, knowing I was outclassed and had no chance of making the team.
I have been asked many times why I kept going when it was a hopeless mission and the only answer I can give is that for me, not getting on the team wouldn’t have been a failure and indeed I didn’t expect to, but giving in would have been. I had to live with myself after this mad weekend and I wanted to be able to tell my children, and know myself, I had given everything whatever the outcome.
I got to the end of the long walk and completed the activities set for us the next morning. When called forward for a debrief I expected to be sent home forever, but amazingly, even though I was undoubtedly the worst there, that didn’t happen. I was given a lifeline. No one was ruled out on that first selection weekend and anyone could come back for the second weekend where the team would be picked.
For me that was the end. I was physically weak, unqualified and out of my depth I’d hated every minute of it and wanted nothing more than to go home. Or at least that was my first thought. But then I thought about what was at stake. I caught the dream if you will. To be part of the first all women’s team to walk to the North Pole was beyond anything I had ever imagined. I had 2 choices, I either gave it up which no one would blame me for as I was out of my depth, or I gave it everything I had. I knew I’d been tested more than the other women mentally and had kept going. If I could get physically strong, and learn the skills I needed then surely there was some hope and even if it was only a glimmer of a hope, I was going to go for it. Dream big and reach for the stars.
I needed a plan. One that would get me ready for the final selection in 9 months time while being a full time mum of young triplets.
Everything starts with a good plan. The first thing I did was to go down to the local gym who sponsored me with membership. They had a crèche. I worked out each morning while the children played with the other kids downstairs. While they slept in the afternoon I did military style circuits in my small back garden and friends taught me how to read a map, how to pack a rucksack, how to perform in the great outdoors.
9 months later I was ready and went back to Dartmoor a different person. I’m sure the selectors were shocked to see me return but this time I was strong and fit and a valuable part of each team I was placed with over the four days. There was a lot of walking, navigating, simulated rescue attempts in the middle of the night, abseiling, crossing freezing cold lakes and a 2 mile race at 2 am in the morning, which I won. At the end of the weekend I had given it everything I had and could do no more. If I wasn’t chosen I would have been disappointed but it would be because they were looking for something I didn’t have and I could live with that.
They gathered the whole group of women in a barn just before we were due to leave to announce the final team. To my utmost joy and surprise my name was called out.
Sometimes you just have to make your own future happen and this was it for me. I was going to the Arctic!!