MADE TOUGH IN WALES.
Polar explorer Wendy Searle is on a mission to get more people into adventure, particularly more women and those from less privileged backgrounds. She hopes they’ll go on to do things like she’s done. Things, that is, like skiing solo across Antarctica to the South Pole.
Wendy believes we can all enjoy benefits in our everyday lives from taking on activities that challenge us. ‘Hardship and deprivation,’ she says, ‘give you a different perspective on life'.
"When you have faced situations where life and death are in such a delicate balance, you appreciate just having a nice chair to sit on."
Wendy was a latecomer to the exploration game. As a kid, she’d hated family trips to the Lake District and Dartmoor. She was a mum of four doing an office job when a chance meeting with some soldiers sparked something in her.
She got into marathons and fell (hill) running, and became engrossed with stories of early polar exploration. Then she made up her mind to embark on an Arctic crossing to raise money for charity. She tried to encourage friends to join her but since none would, the only way to do the journey was solo.
She went on courses (yes, you can do courses in polar exploration), building up her skills and experience. Through trips to Norway, Iceland and a 27-day team trek across Greenland, Wendy learned how to ski, navigate and fix a sled, all in temperatures between -15 and -30 degrees. A lot went wrong, but mistakes, says Wendy, are great for learning. ‘Good judgement comes from experience; experience comes from bad judgement.’
In January 2020, Wendy finished skiing solo and unassisted from the Antarctic Coast to the Geographic South Pole. In just 42 days, she had completed 715 miles across this arduous terrain.
"Hard times make heroes"
At the end of last year, Wendy attempted the expedition again, hoping to beat the women’s speed record by completing the trip in less than 38 days and 23 hours. But despite the best possible preparations, things went wrong from the start. She caught a chest infection from a member of the crew of a YouTuber doing a stunt at the Antarctic base camp, her skis delaminated, and she faced the worst windblown ice in a decade. With breaking the record becoming less and less likely, abandoning her attempt was the only course of action she could sensibly take. However, with no intention of letting the failure stop her from making the most of Antarctica, Wendy recovered from her infection and summited Mount Vinson, the continent's highest peak, before returning home.
Wendy is now a full-time polar expedition manager. When she isn’t training in the snow and ice, she cuts a dash in her home town of Penallt, Monmouthshire, dragging a giant truck tyre through the streets and along the forest trails of south Wales.
She hopes her feats will inspire many mothers and women of all ages to go out and do something they thought they’d never be able to do, or never thought they’d have the time to do because family or careers came first. As she puts it, ‘hard times make heroes’, so do something difficult and find out just how resourceful and resilient you might be.
Wendy was photographed in Penallt wearing our cotton sweatshirts. Today, many of our sweatshirts are made in Wales, and while they’re pretty tough, they’re not as tough as Wendy.