Princess of Wales hails ‘incredible' Polar Preet during school visit
The Princess of Wales has praised Captain Preet Chandi's “incredible” polar expedition following the Army officer's record-breaking trip to Antarctica.
Kate visited Landau Forte College in Capt Chandi's home city of Derby on Wednesday, just days after the 34-year-old, dubbed Polar Preet, returned to the UK.
During her trip, Capt Chandi broke the world record for the furthest unsupported solo polar expedition, covering 922 miles (1,484km) in 70 days and 16 hours.
Kate became a patron of the challenge at the end of October, something Capt Chandi described as an “absolute privilege”, with the two women speaking on the phone prior to her departure in November.
Speaking about the feat, the princess said: “I just think it's incredible, what you've been able to achieve.
“Being by yourself… as humans we are meant to connect and be with each other, and being on your own all that time is really challenging.”
Kate has long been an advocate of outdoor activities and is joint president of the Scouts.
While at the school, she attempted to pull two tyres attached to a harness, which weighed 44lb (20kg) each, and which Capt Chandi pulled along Derby's roads during her three-year training period to simulate the weight of her sledge.
Speaking to pupils, Kate said: “(Capt Chandi) has been a huge inspiration to me and it's been great to see her journey and what she has been able to achieve in the year she has been working towards this incredible goal.
“I really hope it inspires you all to believe in yourself, to push boundaries and to really work on your own resilience because there are such strong messages that really help support your emotional and mental wellbeing.”
Polar Preet beat the previous world record of 907 miles (1,459km), set in 2015 by fellow soldier Henry Worsley, a retired lieutenant colonel.
She skied for up to 15 hours a day on as little as five hours of sleep, pulling her kit and supplies – which weighed around 19 stone (120kg) – through winds of up to 60mph and in temperatures as low as minus 30C.
She said: “Physically it was very difficult, but mentally it was a whole different ball game.
“When you're looking into nothingness, it was tough to keep going.
“It was hard, it was cold, it was frustrating, but I thought about the ‘why' and that helped me.”
The achievement marked the second time Capt Chandi had been to the continent, after becoming the first woman of colour to embark on a solo expedition when she completed a 700-mile (1,127km) ski to the South Pole in 40 days in January last year.
She completed the challenge while on a period of leave from her Army role, having joined the Army Reserves at the age of 19 and the regular Army at 27.
She is now based in Buckinghamshire, working as a physiotherapist at a regional rehabilitation unit, helping injured soldiers with training and rehabilitation, and is set to resume work in April.
A GoFundMe page has raised more than £11,000, half of which will go to an “adventure grant” for women carrying out “unique challenges”, while the other half will go towards Capt Chandi's next expedition.
Asked what her next challenge will be, she said: “It doesn't have to be bigger. For me, it's about how I can involve people.
“I took leave to do this so I need to go back to my job in my full-time role and manage that as well, but I'm sure there will be something.”
The princess and Capt Chandi were welcomed to the school by Elizabeth Fothergill CBE, Lord-Lieutenant of Derbyshire.
The two women gave talks to several girls from the school, before presenting an award to Year 10 pupil Simrat Soggi, one of 11 winners of a national competition to design a logo that could feature on Polar Preet's sledge (pulk) for much of her expedition.
They also then spoke to Year 11, 12 and 13 pupils about the importance of mental wellbeing and resilience, where Kate, wearing white Veja trainers, a white jacket and blue trousers, said “It is great that you are talking about mental health” as “it was not always like that”.
Jasmine Dhnota, a 17-year-old Year 13 pupil who took part in the discussion, said: “It was surreal, it was incredible, it was so inspiring, and what they had to talk about with mental health really hit home.
“Personally, struggling with it after Covid, it was so inspiring.”
Wiktoria Narusz, who is the same age, said: “It was so inspiring seeing Captain Preet come and talk about how she really had to overcome all those downs she had during her expedition and really show her resilience.”