She completed the journey in 40 days and became the first “woman of colour” to do so.
Captain Harpreet Chandi, a 32-year-old Indian-origin British Sikh Army officer and physiotherapist, has created history by becoming the first woman of colour to complete a solo unsupported trek to the South Pole.
She battled temperatures of – 50°C and fierce winds of up to 97km per hour, this pioneering woman dragged an 87kg sled for 40 days, over a distance of 700 miles, unsupported and all on her own. Polar Preet, as she has come to be known these days, survived on snacks and freeze-dried meals for food.
The Daily Telegraph has reported that “skiing for up to 11 hours a day, she has kept herself entertained along the way by listening to Bhangra music which reminds her of her Punjabi roots”.
Each day of her inspiring journey was recorded on a blog page she posted every day. An obviously elated and emotional Harpreet reported the journey’s end thus: “Hello everyone, checking in from day 40. I made it to the South Pole where it’s snowing. Feeling so many emotions right now. I knew nothing about the polar world three years ago and it feels so surreal to finally be here. It was tough getting here and I want to thank everybody for their support,” she wrote.
She goes on to describe that she had always wanted to stretch her boundaries and smash the glass ceiling “into a million pieces.”
Harpreet introduces herself as an Army Officer, physiotherapist, Nordic skier, ultra-marathon runner and endurance athlete on her blog page, which she also posted on her Instagram handle every day. She worked on her dream of completing this expedition to Antarctica meticulously and stuck to it.
She prepared for the expedition with a course at Hannah McKeand’s Polar Expedition Training in Norway in Finse in Feb 2020, where she learnt about polar clothing, pitching tents, basics of camping, managing carbon monoxide inside a tent, basics of cooking, nutrition, navigation, travelling in a polar environment, reading the weather, handling electronics, emergency evacuation and expedition risk assessment.
Harpreet also undertook endurance training for a year, specific strength training for two months before the journey, participated in a 27-day expedition to the ice cap in Greenland and acquired necessary medical training from an Army doctor. This high achiever also decided to do a 4-year part time MSc in Sports and Exercise Medicine from Queen Mary’s University of London in Sep 2019 and decided in 2021 that she would complete it before going to Antarctica. Two weeks before leaving the UK, she learnt that she had earned a distinction in her Masters.
And to top it all off, just before leaving, she got engaged to David Jarman, an army reservist with the Honourable Artillery Company. He is due to meet her in Chile after she returns from the South Pole.
She had a lot of time to introspect on her life’s journey as she walked those miles to the South Pole. In one of her blog posts, this courageous woman says, “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.”
The captain’s love for family comes through on many of her posts, where she writes about her mother’s special tandoori chicken for Christmas or her naani’s (grandmother’s) insistence of giving her money to buy something from the icy continent.
Her first blog was dedicated to her grandfather: “This one goes out to my Baba Ji (my Grandad), who lived an incredible long life up to the age of 99. He moved to the UK when I was born and raised me. He always made me feel just as important in a community where I sometimes felt as though I was less. I always used to think he looked like an Indian Santa Claus, he had crystal blue eyes, a white beard and the best heart. Thank you, Baba Ji, for letting me know that I was just as important. I hope you’re watching down on me for this journey.”