Stephanie Gicquel, Long Distance Runner, Polar Explorer, Motivational Speaker and Corporate Lawyer shares some highly unique insight about her 2,045 kilometres expedition across the Antarctic via the South Pole for! Stephanie relays fundamental points which she has learnt throughout her expeditions and talks about her environmentally friendly initiatives. The importance of teamwork and having hobbies outside of work are also discussed! Read below to find out more.
You are the first French woman to have run a marathon around the North Pole by -30 ° C. You have also crossed the Antarctic via the South Pole for 2,045 kilometers in 74 days by -50 ° C, the longest expedition on foot without traction sail done by a woman in Antarctica (Guinness World Records). How did you get into this type of challenging sports and what was your driving motive to pursue these expeditions?
I enjoy adventures and for me this means stepping out of my comfort zone. I therefore initiated and experienced several challenges and have many more yet to come!
I have always been attracted by endurance sports and polar regions – even more so now that I explored Greenland, Spitsbergen, North Pole, Antarctica.
I had read so many books about these regions and at some point felt I had to make my own expeditions in these areas to get closer to the reality and truth of how they actually were.
When I decided to walk 2,045 kilometres across Antarctica, I could have been discouraged numerous times. I had read Reinhold Messner’s book about his expedition across the Antarctica wherein he described his time as the most challenging and painful mountaineering experience- alongside his ascent of mount Everest- he had ever had. Additionally, I could also have been discouraged by the list of adventurers who had died in Antarctica, or when my potential sponsor decided not to fund me because the risk of me dying was too high! Lastly, I was told time and time again that as a woman, this expedition would be impossible! I accumulated all these doubts and decided to transfer them into positive energy which made me work harder.
When I reached my goal to cross Antarctica after walking over 2,045 kilometers, my body weight was down to 39kg. When temperature dropped down to -50°C for several days, I did no longer feel my fingers and toes. When I had to walk longer hours and sleep only 4 to 5 hours to recover, hunger would still wake me up in the middle of the night. I knew what it took me to get there and only a severe injury could have taken me out of Antarctica. I never felt like giving up.
In your books On naît tous aventurier and Across Antarctica expedition as well as in the conferences and workshops you organize, you share some of the key lessons you have learned throughout these expeditions. Could you share some with us? In particular, what lessons can be applied to the professional word?
First key takeaway would be: be focused and passionate. I would actually not have survived two days on the ice in Antarctica if I had not been focused and passionate about this expedition. I think everyone should suss out their own “Antarctica challenge” whatever it may be and then go for it.
Second key takeaway is that no one should be afraid to change. I found out that it does not really matter if this change leads to a success or a failure. Taking a different route is not so much about what you earn, it is mostly about what you learn. If you do not succeed at first, try and try again!
Taking a different path is not so much about what you earn as a result, it is mostly about what you learn along the way.
Third key takeaway is to remember that nothing comes with absolute ease. Working hard, working efficiently, and working together with experts, specialists and a team aiming for a same goal is vital for professional growth.
A fourth key takeaway is optimism. This is key if you need to reach a finish line which is far off! To visualize the steps that are needed for you to get to your desired goal will help you stay motivated and optimistic! For example, I imagined before I did my Antarctica trip that I would have to walk 10 to 16 hours a day everyday despite the strong and cold wind and that my clothes would be permanently frozen with no possibility to change them during weeks. As such, I was better prepared for when these things did happen!
There are actually many other key takeaways from these experiences, but most importantly is to remain self-confidence– it is something you build up overtime. The best way to start is to take the first step and try.
You have founded an association to raise young people’s awareness about the beauty of the polar regions and their importance for the global climate change. Could you tell us more about this initiative and what has drawn you to commit yourself to the environment?
I funded a non-profit charity to promote polar regions whilst also having given talks at the French Ministry of Ecology, COP21, COP22, etc. I frequently visit schools to raise environmental awareness by sharing the beauty of the polar regions and their importance for the global climate change. Every time I go for a polar exploration, one of my main goals is to bring back photos and videos as it can improve people’s understanding and knowledge about the importance of these regions.
Every time I go for a polar exploration, one of my main goals is to bring back photos and videos as it can improve people’s understanding about the importance of these regions!
Alongside being lawyer and teacher, you always found time to do sports. How important is it, do you feel, to have a hobby or a passion alongside work?
I feel like this is a way to keep learning. And at some stage learning is actually the only way to grow.
Even if you are very good at what you are doing and are an expert in your field you can still continue to grow by exploring different environments. By doing so, you may go back to your field of expertise and look at it with different eyes.
You have organized team-building workshops and conferences. What role has teamwork played throughout your professional and personal life?
As mentioned above, working together with a team of experts, specialists and with a team aiming for a same goal is key if you want to progress. Even running is not a solo sport. I would not have won ultra-trails, the 24 Hour French Championships, and would not have been able to prepare efficiently for the World Athletics Championships without a committed team. I am depended on their advice with regards to nutrition, body recovery, adaptation to environmental stresses and so on. The key is to find out and gather the best team members and this does take some time. However, it is more efficient to take more time to build a team upfront rather than struggling alone.
Working together with a team of experts, specialists and a team aiming for the same goal is essential if you want to professionally progress!
For example, I recently prepared and succeeded in the World Marathon Challenge, a challenge to run seven marathons around the world in seven days, together with several sponsors and with the INSEP which is the French national institute for sport and performance. Our goal was notably to collect a maximum of data regarding the adaptation of human body to environmental and climate stresses especially when performing long distance effort.
What future goals are you working towards?
I am now training for and focusing on the 2019 World Athletics Championships (24-hour run). There are many other projects I am thinking about - both in relation to endurance sport and polar regions.
We have tradition at WIL of ending our interviews with a question from Proust’s questionnaire, as such: which living perosn do you most admire?
I am inspired by every single person I meet. We all live interesting adventures and you can therefore always learn from someone else.