Army officer to make history on polar expedition

An Army officer is about to create history as the first woman of colour to ski solo and unsupported to the South Pole.

Captain Preet Chandi is ready to embark on her 700-mile trek to the South Pole where she will endure temperatures as low as -50C and wind speeds of up to 60mph, while pulling a 90kg sled.

And if successful, she will attempt an epic crossing of Antarctica from coast to coast solo and unsupported in the next couple of years.

Polar Preet, aged 32, has been training for the 45-day feat of physical and mental endurance for the last two years, including a 27-day expedition in Greenland where she battled some of the harshest weather conditions including ‘whiteouts’ which she recalls was like “travelling through a marshmallow”.

Derby-born Preet, who had never even been camping before joining the Army, initially as a medic in the Reserves with 222 Medical Squadron, aged 19, says the outdoor skills, as well as the teamwork, confidence and leadership she has gained throughout her service have helped her prepare for the mammoth task ahead.

She said: “For this mission, I’m so grateful to have the Army’s support and allowing me to take time away from my day job.

There’s so much to prepare for an expedition like this and I’m really proud to be representing the Army

“The best advice I’ve had is just to enjoy it. I know that sounds really simple and you think, of course you’re going to enjoy it but when you’re in those conditions and when it’s tough, I think sometimes, it’s easy to forget where you actually are and how amazing that is.”

Just days until she sets off, the anticipation is building for the physiotherapist who now serves with Preston-based 3 Medical Regiment, part of 102 Logistic Brigade.

She said: “I am 10 out of 10 excited. This is an amazing expedition to be doing. I never though in my lifetime that I would be going to the South Pole until three years ago when I started planning this.

“I wanted to do it because it was something that I knew nothing about and that in itself was super exciting to me.

As I started to train for it, I learned more about it and it just shows the more you do, the more you realise you’re capable of.”

Of the skills she has needed to learn, Preet says resilience and feeling comfortable on her own are among the most important.

“I have definitely had to gain a fair amount of strength as well, and my endurance has definitely got better,” she added.

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Preet, who currently lives in London, said: “When I decided I wanted to go to Antarctica, I didn’t know I would be the first woman of colour to do a solo expedition on the continent and people have said to me ‘You don’t look like a polar explorer’.

“I  think it’s really important to show the diversity and increase that diversity just to show this is possible and it doesn’t matter where you come from, what your background is or what you look like, you can achieve something like this.

“It might not be the norm, I might not be the image that you’d expect to see doing something like this, but I think it’s important to break out of what people expect to be the norms.

“What do we create as our norms? What is normal to us? Actually, if enough people do something new, it becomes normal.

So, wherever you’re from, whatever experience you’ve got, if you want to go out and do something different, take that first step and go for it!”

Preet, who has also completed an MSc in sports and exercise medicine over the past two years, also thanked the people without whose help her monumental quest would not be possible.

She said: “Although this is a solo expedition, it’s not actually solo until I get on the ice. I have a huge team behind me which has just grown and grown, so I really think that teamwork is really important in this.”

Brigadier Lizzie Faithfull-Davies, Commander 102 Logistic Brigade, said: “Preet has invested so much time and energy into preparing herself for this arduous 700-mile solo, unsupported polar trek.

“From towing a tyre around behind her to build her physical strength, to practicing cooking whilst wearing thick gloves over her stove in her garden, and ensuring she has first-hand experience of navigating in the disorientating conditions of a whiteout, every aspect of her preparation demonstrates the values and standards that are so important to the British Army.

“She is an inspiration and the whole brigade wishes her the very best for her expedition.”