Sarah: Hello and welcome to the Tough Girl podcast. I'm absolutely delighted to have Ann Daniels with us today.
Ann is a great British polar explorer. She's a record breaking polar explorer. First woman in history to reach the North and South Poles as parts of all women teams. She's led three major expeditions in the Arctic Ocean and is being named by the daily telegraph as one of the top 20 great adventurers of all time. Ann, welcome to the podcast.
Ann: Welcome to you Sarah!
Sarah: I'm so delighted to have you here! I have to ask, have you always wanted to be a polar explorer? Was that the dream when you were younger.
Ann: No. Not at all. I didn't ever imagine I would become an adventurer. I was born in a city and I didn't do anything outdoors at all until the ripe old age of 30.
Sarah: 30! Wow. What happened, what changed?
Ann: I had triplets, that was the first challenge. I didn't expect to have triplets and it was just having them leaving that normal, secure job and the things we do in our everyday life and coping on my own with triplets. I didn't have family around and unfortunately when they were very young, my marriage split up and it was just having that that gave me that confidence in myself. Then, it was pure chance.
Actually, my husband at the time had seen a number in the newspaper asking for ordinary women to apply to be part of the first all female team to go to the North Pole. I had every reason I shouldn't do it. I got baby triplets, I never had walked in boots on my feet, I knew nothing about the outdoors. But I'm a bit of a believer in opportunities and I thought oh, just give it a go. Go down, see what it is and just see what happens. Pretty much, that was it.
I went to Dartmoore, did some training, found out I was rubbish. I never would have been selected. I was the worst. There was about 250 other women had applied. They were all outward bound instructors. Again, it was just that choice. I'm so bad, I was the only one who had no experience. I either give it up or just go for it. I thought if I go for it, I might not get it but I certainly won't if I give it up. So, I spent nine months there with picking the team in nine months. I spent nine months on my own with children running around the park. Friends taught me how to read a map, I got physically fit. I would be doing pressups on the patio while they were asleep. It was madness but when I went back down to Dartmoore, I couldn't believe it. I actually got on the team!
From that, that was a relay so that was my introduction and we went to the Arctic. I couldn't ski. I had to learn that. I was the worst. But I kept going and at the time actually it wasn't necessarily belief, it was just keep taking one step at a time. Just keep learning the next thing. We made the relay. I was on the first leg.
And then we came off and that's where I actually fell in love with the Arctic and nature. Just testing yourself, whatever come challenge, it brings your life alive and it gives you real faith that you can do something else. I got introduced to it, led my craft and thought this is what I want to do. I found it at last! That's when I went on and we put the South pole together and the whole North pole and it just snowballed from there.
Sarah: Oh. My goodness. I mean, having triplets, that would be, even just having one baby would change someone's life forever but having triplets. And then training for this race, it just must have been absolutely phenomenal. How did you overcome those various challenges?
Ann: I think it was complete focus. I knew I had to train and so I got a plan together, I joined a gym and somebody gave me exercises on the patio. But most of all, I had to look after the children. It worked around them, three very small children are quite demanding but as soon as they were in bed, I would be training.
Also, I found ways to combine it so I took them out of the house a lot. I didn't want three babies crying in the house. I would put them in the pram and I would run around the park with children. We did a lot of outdoor things. I learned how to navigate around the streets while pushing a pram. I just found new ways to do what I needed to do. That was what it was about. It was an impossible task to look after three children and train so just worked it out. How can I combine the two and do both things well. And, it worked.
Sarah: I remember, there's a great quote, I can't remember it exactly, those who want to find a way will find a way, those who don't will find an excuse. From that, you could have had so many excuses, I can't, I've just had three children, I don't have the time to go to the gym, I don't have the time to exercise, I can't do this. Where you've obviously taken the other route where you're going to make this happen by putting that focus and having a plan. You've obviously turned this around over the nine months while you went on the expedition.
You mentioned it was a relay, for those who aren't up there with all the vast sort of Arctic knowledge, can you explain a bit more about what that involved?
Ann: Okay. To go to the North Pole from land, it's 500 miles across moving ice and water. And actually, in '97, it had been only completed by about 60 teams since Peary first claimed it. And so, we were a bunch of novices and it was put together with two guys. What we did was we left from land.... island, I was part of the first leg with four women and two guides.
They helped us, they taught us how to survive in the cold. They taught us how to navigate and we went for 17 days on the ice. At which point, the twin....on skis, a very small propellar aircraft came in to where we were. We got on the plane and the next group then set off. That wasn't part of my world record.