It seemed fitting that on the day that the first ever statue of a woman, suffragist campaigner Millicent Fawcett, was unveiled in the shadow of the Houses of Parliament we had inspirational Ice Maiden, Major Sandy Hennis, with us to talk about women and stretching their boundaries. One of a team of six women to traverse the Antarctic. The Ice Maidens were not only ground-breaking but they were record breaking.  Inspirational, humble, warm are all words that describe Sandy in spades. Along with her tent, her pulk (from the Finnish word pulkka) is a Nordic short, low-slung small toboggan used in sport or for transport, pulled by a dog or a skier and what seemed like most of the equipment she took with her, we were entertained not once, but twice.

Firstly, the Year 7 and 8’s had the thrill of Sandy speaking to them in the Green Zone. It was an access all areas presentation and at the beginning you could have heard a pin drop. This soon changed when the time came for questions.  No question was considered too inconsequential and Sandy answered them all. The pupils were then allowed to enter the tent, try on any equipment and ask those questions that were for Sandy’s ears only… We can only imagine what they were! But, I know for a fact that clean pants and toilet stops were part of these conversations!

Secondly, we had the Thomas Arnold Lecture. The hall was packed full of parents, staff and local residents all ready to hear our inspirational speaker and her message to follow your dreams.

Sandy explained that the team had faced temperatures as low as -56 deg C and burnt approximately 6,000 calories a day as they skied and towed sledges across the frozen landscape and that at times they couldn’t face eating another morsel when upping their calorie intake. Eating “nosebag” style from snack bags, earlier assembled full of broken flapjack, chocolate and the infamous Percy Pigs! In addition, that at least 6 hours a day were spent melting snow for fluids. Things we take for granted daily.  Their 62-day journey had highs and lows as they faced extreme weather conditions, the dangers of encountering crevasses and exhaustion.

Sandy shared with us the highs and lows and the time when her body just wouldn’t let her continue without the support of her team “Not only was I struggling physically but I started to struggle mentally as well because I was not used to my body not working. It is testament to the strength of our team that they didn’t let me lose confidence in myself and I was able to keep going through my illness. Living through the struggles and low points only increased the feelings of achievement at reaching the pole though.”

Below is an extract from Sandy’s blog;

“As I look to the finish point at Hercules Inlet I do not see the end of the expedition but hopefully just the first stage of the ongoing Ice Maiden legacy. One of the aims of our challenge was to inspire others to be more active and reach for their own goals.  I am very much looking forward to talking in schools about our journey and what you can achieve if you believe in yourself and are willing to try. I know crossing Antarctica won’t be at the top of many people’s lists but I hope we have encouraged someone to try something different.”

So, as the lecture drew to a close the question “what’s your Antarctica?” was posed. There were murmurs around the hall as everyone questioned themselves and their friends.

I think that Sandy most definitely inspired us all to try something different and I feel sure that we all came away somewhat humbled yet absolutely inspired, certain in the knowledge that if we challenge our own expectations and boundaries we can almost certainly achieve something special. Even if it is baking a cake that rises!


Stella Aldridge, Development and Alumni Relations