“It was bru­tal – but I never gave up”

Sunday Herald Sun - Stellar - - Front Page - Pho­tog­ra­phy REN PID­GEON

ar­lier this year, when Jade Hameis­ter served up the ul­ti­mate come­back to her in­ter­net trolls, she also be­came an ac­ci­den­tal fem­i­nist icon to a new gen­er­a­tion. In 2016, be­fore she em­barked on an ex­pe­di­tion to the South Pole, the po­lar ex­plorer was met with a bar­rage of of­fen­sive, misog­y­nis­tic com­ments on so­cial me­dia. A string of men sug­gested that, as a woman, her time would be bet­ter spent else­where: they told her to “go make a sand­wich”.

She didn’t take the bait. “I just laughed,” Hameis­ter tells Stel­lar. “The com­ments didn’t mean a lot to me. I think those men, like any­one sit­ting be­hind a com­puter or what­ever, must be pretty in­se­cure about them­selves.” Yet in Jan­uary this year, as she stood in the snow at the South Pole, hav­ing com­pleted yet another world-record-break­ing trek, the per­fect re­but­tal pre­sented it­self. Hameis­ter shared a photo of her­self on In­sta­gram, ham and cheese sand­wich in hand, with an in­vi­ta­tion for her naysay­ers to come and en­joy it – if they could ski the 600km to reach it.

Now, eight months on, Hameis­ter pre­pares to tackle her big­gest chal­lenge to date: fin­ish­ing school. Con­sid­er­ing the 17-year-old al­ready has three world records and an Aus­tralian Ge­o­graphic So­ci­ety’s Young Ad­ven­turer Of The Year ti­tle un­der her belt, in com­par­i­son com­plet­ing her last two years of school­ing would seem like a piece of cake. But, Hameis­ter says, “I wasn’t used to the new rou­tine at all. I found it hard be­ing back in sub­ur­bia – the noise, the busi­ness and all the peo­ple. Out on

the ice, there are no other peo­ple and there’s just no noise. It’s silent. I strug­gle a bit with school now. Be­fore these ex­pe­di­tions, school was my top pri­or­ity. I was A+ in ev­ery sub­ject but, now I’m back, I just com­pletely lack the mo­ti­va­tion. I’m work­ing on it, though.”

Hameis­ter is re­luc­tant to call her child­hood in Mel­bourne atypical, de­spite the fact her fa­ther Paul is a renowned ad­ven­turer. “I guess there was a side [to our fam­ily] that wasn’t nor­mal, or that was dif­fer­ent to my friends’ lives,” she says. “See­ing Dad come home from climb­ing moun­tains or what­ever, hear­ing sto­ries, see­ing pho­tos… [Ad­ven­tur­ing] has al­ways been part of my life, so I think it just made sense that I started do­ing the same sort of things.”

When she was 12, Hameis­ter hiked with her fam­ily to Mount Ever­est Base Camp – not ex­actly your stan­dard fam­ily hol­i­day. By 14, she knew she was ready for her next ad­ven­ture – to the North Pole. So Hameis­ter set off with a small team, in­clud­ing a Na­tional Ge­o­graphic videog­ra­pher and her fa­ther, on an ex­pe­di­tion that made her the youngest per­son in his­tory to ski to the North Pole. Last June, Hameis­ter be­came the youngest woman ever to com­plete the 550km cross­ing of the Green­land ice cap un­sup­ported and unas­sisted (with no food drops and with­out ve­hi­cles or kites).

And in Jan­uary this year, Hameis­ter be­came the youngest per­son to have ever com­pleted the Po­lar Hat Trick, the youngest per­son to ski from the coast of Antarc­tica to the South Pole un­sup­ported and unas­sisted, and the first woman in his­tory to set a new route to the South Pole un­sup­ported and unas­sisted.

Pulling a 100kg sled of sup­plies for 37 days in -50oc tem­per­a­tures through bliz­zards, across crevasses and up glaciers does not sound easy. And Hameis­ter ad­mits as much: “You’re al­ways in pain and you’re al­ways strug­gling. Ev­ery day, at some point, I would hate it and not want to be there. It was bru­tal. But it never once crossed my mind that I would ever leave – I didn’t plan on giv­ing up. It’s ad­dic­tive.

“And I know that sounds re­ally stupid be­cause it is just hor­ri­ble, and I can say that now: it is hor­ri­ble. And when you’re out there, you just want to be back home, but as soon as it’s over, you miss it. I miss the pain, be­ing out of my com­fort zone. Be­ing in that en­vi­ron­ment. Now, I’d do a lot to be back there.”

Hameis­ter doc­u­mented her daily thoughts and jour­ney in a di­ary, ini­tially to “have some­thing to keep for the fu­ture, to re­mind me of those me­mories and feel­ings”. They went on to form the ba­sis of her de­but book My Po­lar Dream.

Back amongst the grind of city life has made Hameis­ter more con­scious of how rare it is to ex­pe­ri­ence those pris­tine Arc­tic en­vi­ron­ments first­hand. Now she has a new mis­sion – to spread the word about how climate change is af­fect­ing the po­lar re­gions. “I’m part of only a hand­ful of peo­ple from my gen­er­a­tion who have been there,” Hameis­ter tells Stel­lar. “I was un­sure about global warm­ing be­fore these ex­pe­di­tions. But now, hav­ing seen it, it’s like, yep, it’s hap­pen­ing. So I feel I have a re­spon­si­bil­ity to do some­thing about it.” Draw­ing on her ex­pe­ri­ences as an op­por­tu­nity to ed­u­cate oth­ers has proven to be one of the most re­ward­ing as­pects of her ad­ven­tures, and it is a job she takes se­ri­ously. Hameis­ter has pub­licly urged young women to cel­e­brate their skills rather than their looks, even de­liv­er­ing a TEDX talk on the sub­ject in 2016. She’s de­ter­mined to prove that women can do any­thing (and more) than their male coun­ter­parts, sand­wich­mak­ing in­cluded. “Grow­ing up, Mum and Dad al­ways in­stilled that my brother and I were equal, and could both do what­ever we wanted,” she says. “Our world [puts us] un­der so much pres­sure to look a cer­tain way and be a cer­tain way. And it’s a much bet­ter way to live if you fo­cus on what you can do, rather than how you ap­pear.” My Po­lar Dream by Jade Hameis­ter (Pan Macmil­lan, $29.99) is out on Tues­day.

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