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British Sikh Army officer becomes first woman of color to ski solo to the South Pole

Laura Smith-Spark and Francesca Street, CNN

British-born Sikh army officer Preet Chandi has become the first woman of color to complete a solo expedition to the South Pole

Chandi, who has spent the past few months skiing solo and unsupported across Antarctica, announced on January 3 that she’d completed the 700 mile trek in 40 days.

“Feeling so many emotions right now,” said Chandi, via her blog.

Before departing on her trip in November 2021, 32-year-old Chandi told CNN she hoped her adventure would inspire others to push their boundaries and defy cultural norms.

It’s a sentiment Chandi reiterated in her finish line blog post.

“The expedition was always about so much more than me,” reads her January 3 update. “I want to encourage people to push their boundaries and to believe in themselves, and I want you to be able to do it without being labeled a rebel.”

Amazing feat

Chandi began her expedition on November 7, 2021, flying to Chile and then embarking from Antarctica’s Hercules Inlet. Along the way, she hauled a sled weighing 90 kilograms (nearly 200 pounds) holding kit, fuel and food to last for roughly 45 days.

Chandi, who adopted the nickname “Polar Preet” for her blog and fundraising efforts, spent two and a half years preparing for the grueling expedition.

She underwent crevasse training in the French Alps, trekked across Iceland’s Langjökull Glacier and endured 27 days on the ice cap in Greenland — not to mention the months she spent dragging a heavy tire behind her back home in England, to simulate pulling a sled.

Over the course of her trip, Chandi’s only contact with the outside world was via a daily check-in with her support team, who posted updates on her blog and Instagram.

These dispatches reiterated the scale of Chandi’s challenge as she persevered through illness, isolation and extremely cold weather.

Chandi dedicated each dispatch from Antarctica to individuals who’ve supported her along the way. Her first post was dedicated to her late grandfather, while her penultimate went out to a handful of close friends, with Chandi using the opportunity to ask them to be her bridesmaids.

Role model

Other women have skied to the South Pole, with Norway’s Liv Arnesen the first in the world to make the trip alone and unsupported in 1994. But Chandi believes she is the first woman of color to do so solo and unsupported.

“I really hope that this does inspire people, I hope that me doing something that was so far out of my comfort zone… would inspire people to push their comfort zones and push their boundaries,” Chandi told CNN in November.

While preparing for her expedition, which was undertaken as part of her active military service, Chandi became increasingly aware of how much it matters for young people to see someone like her as a role model.

“I’m not really the image I think people expect to see, even now,” Chandi told CNN, referring to her South Asian background. “I’m told that ‘you don’t really look like a polar explorer.'”

On her return from Antarctica, Chandi plans to set up an “adventure grant” for women using half the money raised through the Go Fund Me appeal for her polar trip. It will be open to women of any age or background, she said.

“It can be for any adventure, any unique adventure they want to do that is pushing some kind of boundary. It doesn’t have to be a polar expedition. And I really hope that this is something that will continue, year after year after year.”

Top photo courtesy Preet Chandi

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