Ann Daniels has literally gone to the very ends of the earth to prove herself as one of our leading polar explorers.
And yet, the question she most consistently gets asked is about being a mum, or whether she should really be risking her life in the world’s most inhospitable places while leaving her children without their mum for months at a time.
But after becoming the first woman to reach both the north and south poles in an all women team and leading three scientific expeditions to monitor the rate of polar ice melt, she feels the question has been asked and answered more than enough.
Ann Daniels is one of our leading polar explorers with much to share about the power of teamwork an leadership
Ann, 53, who lives in Whimple, near Exeter, said: “I’m not prepared to justify myself anymore.”
How she went from being married at 21 and a mum-of-triplets who worked as a bank clerk to a respected explorer is an incredible story.
She said: “I realise now that my council estate background isn’t the usual and there certainly was not the privilege you’d expect for an explorer, but actually that has given me all the right skills.
Polar explorer Ann Daniels from Devon is sharing her inspirational story at the Road to Resilience event in October.
“When you are brought up on a council estate if you wanted anything badly enough you had to fight for it and work hard – to keep going is in your DNA.
“I am very proud about who I am. I’m not perfect but I don’t want to be.”
One of the first all women’s team to reach both the south and north poles, hers isn’t a story of doggedly following a childhood dream but taking an opportunity when it reared its head and then having the right skills, determination and experience to keep going.
What has followed is an extraordinary career in some of the worlds most inhospitable places, breaking world records, working with NASA, leading the Catlin Arctic Survey with Pen Hadow and as a motivational speaker, inspiring others to reach their potential.
It all started with a newspaper ad and a realisation that after the birth of triplets and a crumbling marriage, life would never be ordinary again.
She said: “I was a mother of small triplets and I worked in a bank, I had already exceeded my family expectations because I was the only member of my family with qualifications. It was all I ever wanted and I was happy.
Ann Daniels is in the record books for her polar exploration success
“And then we started having marital problems which I did not want or expect and I found myself in a pretty tough situation.”
Then Ann’s husband pointed out a newspaper ad looking for ordinary people to take part in the McVitie’s Penguin Polar Team Relay to the north pole.
“I applied, with no real thought for what it meant. I had only ever done an aerobics class, that’s it.”
It turned out to be a turning point in Ann’s life. Leaving three-year-olds Lucy, Joseph and Rachel at home with her parents, she joined the first team of the relay in 1997 after beating off fierce competition from more than 200 other women on a tough Dartmoor selection weekend.
It is an extraordinary story and one that Ann still has to justify herself over – even now her triplets are in their twenties.
She said: “Ann Daniels – mother of triplets. It was said so much I started to think it was my surname. I understand it’s unusual and I’m not knocking it because I think it was what drew them to me in the first place for the first expedition.”
Ann Daniels ditched a conventional life at the bank for polar exploration
Despite finding herself a single mother after the eventual breakdown of her marriage, the unique expedition was the start of a number of world record breaking ventures that would see Ann rise in the field of Polar exploration.
And she has been able to make a day job as an international speaker talking about leadership, crisis management and teamwork.
Ann is the first woman in history, along with expedition teammate Caroline Hamilton, to reach the north and south poles as part of all women teams.
She was part of the first British all women’s team to ski to the South Pole in 2000.
She became the first British North Pole guide and achieved the Guinness world record on June 1 2002 after reaching the geographical North Pole from land.
But the team were tested to their limits, with one team member, Pom Oliver, having to leave through illness and Ann herself close to death.
It was a gruelling expedition with the team battling temperatures of minus 58C, vicious storms, fear of polar bear attacks and carbon monoxide poisoning from a faulty fuel supply.
At one point the team were forced to lie in their tent for three days solid until the storm passed.
“We lay there getting frost bite, unable to communicate with each other.”
But Ann had to leave the shelter to deactivate a beacon that would send a rescue party. If it arrived, then the expedition could not afford to send it away and they would be forced to abandon the trip.
“It had to be me, these girls’ welfare was in my hands.”
When Ann got back to the tent she quickly realised she was in the death zone.
“I had got so cold and I was panicking, thinking I’m going to die, this is it for me. It was a very clinical thought process. I could die and I have three children, so I asked myself: What do I do about this? I made a decision that I could not die.
“I was thinking I cannot warm myself up and I can’t move or light a cooker but I have got my mind.
“So I began to think of a flame, just thinking about a flame in the very core of me, and I imagined it growing. It didn’t work at first but after a while I just went into this altered state of meditation where it was just me and this flame.
“I knew my life depended on it and I could not tell you how long I was there, it could have been 10 minutes or an hour, then I became aware of smell which was my own body odour and I knew I would be OK because where there was smell, and where there’s warmth there’s life.”
Once the storm passed the team stopped to reassess. They were so far behind schedule the likelihood of them reaching the pole on time was negligible.
“We talked about not doing it but we had to stop and take stock and carry on one stage at a time.”
Meeting a new partner, Tom, and having a fourth child, Sarah, didn’t stop Ann’s desire to explore the Polar regions and in 2009, she was asked by Pen Hadow to be his head of ice operations for the ground-breaking Catlin Arctic Survey. This project completed a unique environmental study of the rapidly disappearing frozen Arctic Ocean. In 2010 and 2011 she also led the second and third Catlin Arctic Survey, the only person to be invited to take part in all three expeditions.
This year Ann led a Danish North Pole expedition, working with NASA on their Icebridge project and the European Space Agency, to collect vital ice and snow data on the Arctic Ocean. This expedition made a climate change documentary to highlight the perils facing the Arctic Ocean and the repercussions it has worldwide.
Ann will be speaking at The Road to Resilience: Lessons from Sport, Exploration and Business at Exeter RAMM, October 5.
Source: Devon live