‘I braved frostbite and exhaustion to prove to myself I am capable of anything’
Maddy Turnbull is an ordinary woman who is capable of extraordinary things.
The 45-year-old from Marple, Greater Manchester, achieved an incredible feat as part of the first ever all-female team from the UK to successfully cross the north-south Finnmark Plateau in Norway.
The gruelling 200km trek on skis, was made even tougher by the huge amount of gear that Maddy and her team had to drag behind them on 50kg sleds.
The TV Art Director is passionate about community projects and decided to undertake the epic challenge to raise money for a local charity, but also to make a point about what women are capable of.
‘In sub-zero conditions, everything becomes a huge effort,’ Maddy said. ‘You can’t remove your gloves for the immediate danger of exposure and frostbite, so just trying to fasten a zip, open a packet, or operate a piece of kit becomes extraordinarily difficult.’
Maddy says the challenge demanded a constant level of intense concentration and patience that she wasn’t used to, and it was hard to adjust to how difficult day-to-day functioning skills became.
‘It was a steep learning curve!’ she says. ‘Setting up camp in the cold and dark with biting winds and exhaustion from a day of skiing, pulling a very heavy pulk, was also hard work but absolutely necessary.
‘It required a tough resolve at the end of each day and a fantastic team effort to get camp up and running each night.’
Maddy is into fitness and has always loved a challenge, but plunging herself into something so intense was completely new for her. She wanted to prove to herself that she was capable, and the adrenaline rush was unlike anything else.
‘I’ve always been intrigued about the Arctic region and admired anyone who would put themselves into such an extreme environment,’ Maddy explains. ‘When I stumbled across the Love Her Wild community who were offering “not for the faint-hearted’ women an opportunity to take on this challenge with Norwegian expedition specialists, Turgleder, it stirred up an excited curiosity in me that I could not ignore.’
Getting herself both physically and mentally ready for the expedition was a huge challenge in itself.
The physical training involved gym sessions pulling a 100kg sled; weights; pilates; running; ice-climbing; mountaineering and hill walking with a heavy pack. Maddy also tried winter camping in Scotland, North Wales and the Lake District to prepare for tent life in sub-zero conditions.
But that was only half the battle.
‘The mental preparation included a regular mindfulness practise of yoga and meditation,’ she says.
‘Endurance would play a big part on the expedition, so I undertook cold-water swimming as part of my routine too, building up a tolerance and acceptance of the freezing water temperatures and learning to stay calm when my body and mind were being challenged to such an extreme.’
But, no amount of preparation could have guarded Maddy against every doubt and worry, and the expedition did present challenges that she had to push through.
‘In the first couple of days I had moments of self-doubt – that I may not be good enough to keep up with the team,’ says Maddy. ‘We had not me each other beforehand and didn’t know what our individual capabilities were.
‘My darkest moments came when I was drawing on everything I had to drag the pulk up a hill, wearing skis I wasn’t used to and trying to stay on my feet.
‘There were several days when the terrain became very challenging. I was carrying a lot of weight in my pulk so I struggled when the ground became steeper and I began to doubt if I would be able to make it.
But whenever I needed to find that strength, I imagined a sea of Mini Mermaids and used our mantra of “Kind. Fearless. Strong” on repeat in my head with each strike of the ski pole or drag of the pulk.’
Mini Mermaids UK is the charity that Maddy is raising money for. They are an organisation dedicated to improving the physical and mental health and wellbeing of young girls.
‘I thought this would be a fantastic opportunity to demonstrate to every young girl and woman that whatever your background and story, with hard work and determination, anything is possible,’ says Maddy.
She needn’t have worried about keeping up with team. They bonded immediately and took inspiration from each other’s abilities to get them through.
‘Our team became so close and each member had individual strengths which we drew upon for each other,’ explains Maddy.
‘I was nicknamed “Snow Plough” for being the fastest and strongest at leading from the front and breaking trail!
‘The unshakable support for each woman in this team was the most empowering triumph. We were doing this challenge together, and that included being there for each other in the dark and difficult moments too.’
Maddy hopes her story will inspire other women to take on challenges that take them out of their comfort zones. She says we all have so much more strength than we think we do.
‘It is an opportunity to really meet yourself,’ she says. ‘To push beyond your perceived edges and find out what lies in wait there. Alongside the natural feelings of fear and judgement, there is also the incredible state of joy, exhilaration and freedom that comes with entering this new territory.
‘The confidence to be gained in learning new skills and pushing out of your comfort zone could open doors to a whole new and exciting world. Experiences are what life is all about and I am passionate that women should embrace adventure as an opportunity to find true happiness and fulfilment.’
To Maddy, a strong woman is someone who inspires people with her kindness, compassion and resilience.
‘She makes space for others. She always finds the courage within herself, whatever that may look like. She is often found outside of her comfort zone but she’s giving it a go anyway. She holds up other women and she is not in competition.
‘She knows it’s okay to not be okay. She laughs and she cries. She keeps showing up. She dances to her own tune and she loves with all her heart.’
If you have an inspiring story of strength, resilience or overcoming the odds, we want to hear from you.
Strong Women is a weekly series that champions diversity in the world of sport and fitness.
A Sport England study found that 40% of women were avoiding physical activity due to a fear of judgement.
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