A 32-year-old British-Indian Army officer, Preet Chandi, has become the first woman of color on record to complete a solo expedition to the South Pole. “Antarctica was more than just a dream expedition for me. It was about showing that anyone can do anything, irrespective of their gender, background or the community they belong to,” she says. Chandi completed the 700-mile expedition in January in 40 days, eight days ahead of her goal, but the journey to get there and break barriers was long.
Chandi has wanted to push boundaries, both physically and metaphorically, since she ran her first half-marathon at 20. Since then, she has completed several ultramarathons, including the grueling 156-mile Marathon des Sables across the Sahara.
She chose Antarctica purely because she knew nothing about it, and that in itself was a challenge. She had been on Nordic skiing trips with the Army as well as on numerous hiking and climbing adventures in Kenya, Morocco, Mexico, the Alps, Bolivia, Peru, Nepal and more.
In early 2020, she began preparing for Antarctica, starting with a polar training course in Norway that taught her the survival basics – how to set up a tent, melt snow and cook in extreme conditions. Back in the United Kingdom, she trained six days a week, dragging tires, “which was the closest to pulling a sled.”
Her first real expedition took her to Greenland in August 2020, which showed her what to expect in Antarctica. She put her life savings into the trip. When she did reach the ice cap, she was stuck in a storm for six days, shoveling snow on her hands and knees and rationing fuel.
“Those 27 days in Greenland were physically and mentally exhausting, but it prepared me for Antarctica and gave me a real taste of what it meant to organize and embark on an expedition on my own,” she says.
Chandi was born to Indian parents in Derby, England. Her father moved to the country as a 20-something from the state of Uttar Pradesh in northern India. Her mother’s parents came to England from Punjab.