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From Wrekin Barrel Race to the South Pole for Antarctic explorer Wendy

By Dominic Robertson | Telford | News | Published:

She has run half marathons and taken part in the Wrekin Barrel Race, but Wendy Searle's latest challenge – to ski solo to the South Pole – was in a whole different league, requiring five years of planning, ruthless commitment and a very supportive family.

Wendy, 42, a former sub-editor with the Shrewsbury Chronicle, completed her challenge on January 9, becoming only the seventh woman in history to complete the feat.

The journey required skiing 715 miles from Hercules Inlet to the Geographic South Pole, completely alone – without the possibility of food resupply or assistance.

All smiles in the Antarctic

Speaking from Chile as she recovered from her exertions over 42 days, 16 hours, and 23 minutes, Wendy said she had first considered taking on the challenge when listening to a talk from Professor Chris Imray, a specialist in cold weather injuries.

She said: "A colleague leaned over and said 'This is horrendous, why would anyone put themselves through this?' and I remember thinking 'This looks absolutely brilliant, why would anyone not want to do it!'."

Married with four children and now working as a press officer for the Ministry of Defence in Salisbury, Wendy set about the long task of preparing for an experience only shared by a handful of people.

She said: "It has been such a long process from having the initial idea to the fund raising, the physical training, I was always talking about it as a five year programme."

She added: "My youngest is 10 and he said 'mummy, you have been working on this for half my life'."

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Wendy was skiing for 11 hours a day

Wendy's task was to ski 11 hours a day, sleeping in a small rent for recovery, before setting out to do the same thing the next day – for 42 days.

Over the duration of the journey she lost 12 kilos, dropping to a weight of 56 kilos. It required packing with incredible precision, cutting the handles off items like her tooth brush to save weight, and even cutting her hair before leaving so she did not need to carry a hair brush.

She explained how once out in the Antarctic the barren and vast nature of the landscape was surreal and overwhelming in equal measure.

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"At the beginning there are some features and mounds but after that it is 360 degree horizon for mile on end," she said.

"It is just so vast. I saw one of the other people on an expedition and we said "hello" and I skied off and looked back and she looked so tiny and vulnerable and I realised that was what I must look like, and that was the first day where I felt a little bit overwhelmed by it."

The landscape faced on Wendy's journey

Although Wendy has always been active, this challenge was something different.

She said: "I have got kids, a full time office job, I am not a full time athlete, I could not ski until I started training.

"For me it was to say someone ordinary could do something extraordinary with a combination of determination and iron will , with a laser-like focus on a goal."

She added: "With enough resolve anything is possible."

Wendy said that no matter how tough the task had been – alone in ice cold temperatures, sometimes unable to see any more than inches ahead – giving up was never a consideration, and that the support of her family had been vital for the whole five-year process – and none more so than while she was actually sat in her tent waiting to begin skiing again at the start of every day.

After five years work Wendy finally achieved her goal

She said: "There was no point at which I would every have given up. The only reason I would give up was some sort of catastrophic medical issue.

"I missed my kids so much. Really, really badly and there was a lot of crying about that but they are pretty amazing and not only have they massively supported me, but they would send me messages like "you will not fail", "get out of the tent and get on with skiing", lots of mental support.

"That made me proud, and I did not want to let them down."

The final leg of the journey to the marker of the South Pole saw Wendy ski through the night, and she admitted it had been a hugely emotional feeling as she first caught sight of the finish.

"It took me 42 days, 16 hours and 23 minutes to ski from the start point to the pole but the whole process has taken five years so the last day I decided I wanted to ski through the night to get there so I did a monster ski day," she said.

"You can see it from 10 to 12 miles away and I saw this little speck in the distance and at that distance it looks like a tiny blob, and I cried. I knew I was going to make it, but is is still a day's ski because the distances are so vast."

Having finished the journey, Wendy is coming to terms with the achievement and is now looking to raise £50,000 for ABF The Soldiers’ Charity and The Youth Adventure Trust.

She will be offering to speak about her experience at corporate events or schools for donations.

"To think I am only the seventh woman to complete the journey - it is still sinking in," she said.

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