Repton School and Repton Prep often invite inspirational speakers to share their experiences with pupils, giving these young people insights into a variety of influential individuals’ careers and achievements. In spring 2022, Repton Prep was delighted to welcome explorer Polar Preet to the School, who captivated Repton’s pupils with an account of her solo trek to Antarctica as the first woman of colour to achieve this.
How Preet Overcame Prejudice
A local girl, Preet Chandi was born and bred near Repton School in Derby. As a child, it never occurred to her that she might like to become an explorer. She envisioned herself as a journalist, ballerina, or tennis player. To the surprise of her family, Preet joined the army at age 19. Then, when she decided to trek alone to the South Pole, she was met with several obstacles, none of which discouraged her.
Preet told Repton Prep’s pupils that out of the many hurdles she encountered, being told that she didn’t “look like a polar explorer” gave her more drive to achieve her goal. Preet explained that the people who made comments like this thought she shouldn’t pursue expeditions because of her skin colour. She reminded the pupils that their skin colour, origin, or gender should never hinder their achievements.
Preet’s Preparation for the Trek
Before embarking on her 700-mile journey, Preet spent two and a half years preparing for the expedition with mentors in Norway and Greenland. She journeyed through treacherous terrain to adjust to the conditions she would encounter on her trip to Antarctica, including temperatures of -50°C and wind speeds of up to 60 mph.
Speaking about the icy winds, Preet recalled a time when her face mask slipped and frostnip started to set in. She still has a mark on her cheek from the frostnip now. Preet told pupils that, fortunately, she realised something was wrong. But, unlike the buddy system she was used to in the army, where someone would check you over, here, she was alone. So, she needed to stay alert and watch for warning signs.
As she planned to carry 49 days’ worth of supplies for her journey, Preet knew weight could be an issue, so she cut the labels out of her clothes and her toothbrush in half. She also cut her food into small cubes, making it easier to eat when frozen. And she asked her family and friends to write supportive messages on her food packages and inside her tent so she could read their words of encouragement. They also left motivational voice memos on her mobile phone so she could listen to them during her trip.
Fascinated by the Talk, Pupils Wanted to Know More
Repton’s pupils asked Preet several questions about her trip to Antarctica. They wanted to know what her most memorable moment was, who offered the most motivation, how she coped with the low temperatures, how she kept clean, whether she found it difficult to put her tent up each night, what she ate, whether she sustained injuries, whether she got bored, the physical and mental demands of the trek, and what her next challenge will be.
1. Most Memorable Moment
Preet explained that her biggest highlight was finally arriving at the Pole. She told pupils that there are two sites, the geographic pole, where the earth’s axis meets, which changes every year, and the Ceremonial South Pole, where the flags are placed.
2. Motivation From Mentors
When asked who offered the most motivation, Preet said that everyone who had mentored her encouraged her. All of these people had experience exploring in similar conditions.
3. Coping With Low Temperatures
Preet explained that she wore good base layers. However, it was vital she didn’t sweat because sweat freezes. So, she wore the correct clothes and avoided frostbite by fully covering her body.
4. Keeping Clean
Preet told the pupils that she rolled her feet in ice and brushed her teeth twice a day to keep clean, but she never washed her hair on the journey.
5. Setting Up Camp
When the pupils asked Preet whether she found it difficult to put her tent up each night, she said that setting up camp became part of her routine. Each night, she secured the tent with a shovel to stop it from blowing away and dug a hole in the entrance. This process took around half an hour. Once she had erected her tent, she would light her stove to keep warm and sleep in a cosy sleeping bag on two mats.
Preet explained she had taken freeze-dried food, to which she could add boiling water. She said that she enjoyed pork pasta the most. Knowing she had to eat on average 5,000 calories per day, she planned her rations for fluids and food for 49 days but finished her journey in 40 days.
Preet said she would only take enough supplies for 45 days if she was to redo the trip. Even after consuming so many calories each day, she was still 10 kilos lighter when she arrived home.
7. Avoiding Injuries
Preet told the pupils she was ultra-careful to avoid injuring herself. She had a satellite phone so she could confirm she was safe each day to a logistics company, who would have airlifted her out if she had sustained injuries.
8. Avoiding Boredom
Preet explained that she listened to audiobooks and talked to herself to avoid getting bored. When the pupils asked if she ever sledged down the hills, Preet confirmed she didn’t as the trek was all uphill.
9. Mental Challenge
When asked whether the challenge was more physically or mentally demanding, Preet said that she found the journey more mentally challenging. On her most demanding day, Preet concentrated hard on each step she took, urging herself to keep going, step by step. By the evening, she realised if she had made it through that day, she could make it through anything.
That said, Preet never felt like giving up. She had put so much work into the preparation for the trip and received so much support from others, she knew she couldn’t let them or herself down. She also had to prove her doubters wrong.
10. Preet’s Next Trek
Preet explained her next challenge is to cross the whole continent of Antarctica, which means she will continue past the South Pole, an even bigger challenge. She ended the talk by acknowledging the importance of never listening to the doubters, always believing in yourself, and using negative comments to fuel your motivation to succeed.
About Repton School
Repton School, founded in 1557, sits in the Derbyshire village of Repton. As one of the most prestigious schools in the UK, Repton educates its pupils with community-driven principles, modern curriculums, and traditional values that prepare and inspire them to become responsible and well-adjusted adults with successful futures.
Repton School offers boarding and day school facilities that ensure both day students and boarders are included in Repton’s community. Repton is widely acknowledged for its pupils’ remarkable academic performances and exceptional sporting accomplishments.