By Connie Wardman, M.A., SDLT (she/her)
Celebrating strong women, we want to honor Preet Chandi, the first woman of color to complete a solo, unaided expedition over 700 miles to the South Pole in just 40 days! Chandi, now better known to the world as Polar Preet, is indeed a rebel with a cause. Just 32 years old, she is a British Army Captain, a physiotherapist, Nordic skier, ultra-marathon runner and endurance athlete whose life story has a strong message for women everywhere: “You would be amazed at what you can achieve if you believe in yourself.”
Born and raised in Derby, England of Punjabi heritage, Chandi pulled a sled with almost 200 pounds of equipment and freeze-dried meals, daily averaging 11 hours of skiing uphill (yes, up to the South Pole!) in temperatures down to minus-58 degrees F and winds up to 60 miles per hour.
An Asian woman who has experienced prejudice, discrimination and personal attacks because of her skin’s color, Chandi’s story is especially inspirational for other women of color. She recognizes the power of visibility, of having a role model, of one person changing society’s limiting expectations. Throughout her 40-day journey she kept a blog: some pertinent parts are shared below (with British spelling).
Today I was thinking about my journey to this point, the fact that I had this idea 2 and a half years ago when I knew absolutely nothing about the polar world. I created the name Polar Preet 2 years ago, my partner created my website, it was really hard getting support at the start which is why I’m so grateful that I have it now. I spent so much money, all of my money plus my life savings on a lot of the training and all my leave on the training and it was really tough at times but it was all worth it because I’m actually here now. You would be amazed at what you can achieve if you believe in yourself.
So I was told no a lot of the time and I ignored it most of the time. I was more often than not discouraged to push boundaries and was often labelled disrespectful for voicing my opinions. I was labelled the rebel for doing things out of the norm. But I think we create our own normal.
Right now my normal is being on an expedition in Antarctica. Normal can be whatever you want it to be. And surrounding yourself with people that believe in you, I know I’m on my own out here but I also know that there are so many people who believe in me and are supporting me.
This post is for anybody that needs to hear this. It can often be those closest to us that hold us back. I am often called a rebel for doing things out of the norm, for pushing my boundaries. For a long time, I stopped telling as many people about the challenges I was doing or I would down play them.
You may not be able to relate to the challenge I am currently on, but I want to tell you it is ok to push your boundaries and I want to encourage you to do so. You can achieve anything you want and it soon becomes addictive, when you start pushing those boundaries. You’ll soon realise what you are capable of, I have (I say sitting in Antarctica.)
I also wanted to add in tonight’s blog, that it took me a long time to be proud of the colour of my skin. I used to be embarrassed, having eggs thrown at me and people spit at me when I was a teenager because I ‘looked different’ certainly didn’t help. It took me a while to appreciate my culture and my roots, so when I describe myself as a ‘woman of colour’ it is because I am finally proud of my skin colour, my roots, my culture. This term isn’t used to offend anyone. It is part of me and doing this expedition as a woman of colour is incredibly powerful. Having been told on many occasions that I don’t look like a polar explorer … lets change the image you expect to see.
So, I finished Will Smiths audiobook the other day and he talks about how other people give you advice and basically mentions that other people give you advice based on their fears, their preducices and their experiences which I thought was really interesting. So, you’re living your life for the first time and how does anyone else know what you’re capable of, you may not even know yourself yet.