Rosie and I first met back in 2005, when I wanted to pick her brains about expedition nutrition. Memorably – and accurately – described as a cross between Tinkerbell and the Terminator, Rosie is an outstanding polar explorer. In 1997 she was part of the McVities Penguin Polar Relay team. Listeners might remember that one of our early guests was Victoria Riches, who was also part of that all-female team.
Five of the women enjoyed that expedition SO much that in 1999 they completed their own expedition to the South Pole.
Rosie then branched out on her own. In 2004 she walked alone to the South Pole, alone and without resupply, breaking the original speed record, but another woman that same season beat the record by even more.
In 2007 she was set to become the first woman to trek solo to the Geographic North Pole, an attempt that saw her amputate two of her toes, and reluctantly concede defeat just 89 miles short of her goal.
Doing What Is Necessary
“You don’t cry, you don’t whinge, you get up and you keep going.” (Rosie Stancer)
I confess to being morbidly fascinated with the fact that Rosie amputated two of her toes while bidding for the North Pole in 2007. I’m not good with the concept of amputation at the best of times, but to self-amputate, with not so much as a stiff tot of rum to dull the pain, filled me with a prurient kind of horror. It turned my stomach to imagine the scene, but at the same time I wanted to find out more.
And, strangely, as Rosie described the incident, my horror was replaced by an understanding of why she had little choice. It made perfect sense. As with Aaron Ralston cutting off his arm in order to free himself from a fallen rock and certain death, when you hear the full story you understand that the amputation was the lesser of the evils. In a survival situation there is no place for the self-indulgence of squeamishness.
“There are two realities – the one here, and the one out there… If you transport yourself back into that environment [the Arctic], you do what is necessary.”
As Rosie said, what would be unimaginable in (so-called) civilisation becomes not just conceivable but necessary when you’re alone in the wilderness with two gangrenous toes. It’s all to do with context – and motivation.
Motivation, as you might have gathered by now, is one of my favourite subjects. How do we find the courage to do what would once have seemed unacceptable? Often, it’s because the alternative seems even more unacceptable. You cut off your arm if the alternative is death by dehydration. You cut off your toes if the alternative is spreading gangrene.
And you set out on big scary expeditions if the alternative is to lead a life as one of those “cold and timid souls who know neither victory nor defeat” (Theodore Roosevelt).
“Ability is what you’re capable of doing. Motivation determines what you do. Attitude determines how well you do it.”
(Lou Holtz, legendary US football coach, quote from Rosie’s website)
“It is the Arctic who is in control, and she’s capricious and feckless and toys with you.” (Rosie Stancer)
“Going out there to conquer the Arctic – you can’t do that. It’s bigger and stronger than you.” (Rosie Stancer)
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2:20 Was Rosie always adventurous? No! From hotel PR to polar explorer
3:20 How was Rosie so sure that polar exploration was for her?
4:20 Rosie’s gruelling training regime, challenging both physically and psychologically
6:30 The challenges of the Arctic
7:50 How it feels being away from her husband and son – and how she uses them for motivation
9:25 Is there still anything that scares Rosie?
11:20 The inner voices that help the solo adventurer
13:00 The Field Marshall to the rescue
21:00 Why it’s good to treat yourself like an idiot
23:00 Being followed by a grand piano – hallucinating in Antarctica
24:15 Amputating toes in the Arctic
29:15 Returning to the Arctic, and Rosie’s strategy for coping with the rapidly changing ice cap
32:20 Aging and exploration: losing bounce but gaining endurance, strength… and patience
34:00 Being a woman in a traditionally man’s world: the double-edged sword of upsetting preconceptions
38:10 Rosie’s upcoming adventures and book – Isolation
39:45 Rosie’s thank yous
Rosie’s training – check out the video!
As well as her family and various others that Rosie thanked in the podcast, she also wanted to express her gratitude to the following:
Ian Wesley, Martin Hartley, Char Harrison, Radha Burgess, Helen Turton steve jones and Helen Turton and The Doc Martin.
Also ‘the brutes’ referred to in the podcat: Alan Pearson, Lee ‘Asbo’ Watts and more recently Richard Hawkins who has managed to make a 53 year old really ‘buff’ (and puff)!