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Tuesday, September 29, 2015

New worlds to conquer

“A life lesson for me is, how do you muster the courage to take on a new risk? Whether it's starting up a business or taking on a new project or expedition. I think the risks that we take are all relative to the risk-taker. – Ann Bancroft

One of the fun feature stories I got to write was about Ann and her co-explorer Paul Schurke shortly after they returned from conquering the North Pole via sled dog team (on the Steger-Schurke Expedition).   They came to Northfield, Minn., where we were living, to share stories about their harrowing trek, sign autographs, and do a fund-raiser for a couple more trips each was anticipating.

Ann had become the first woman to cross the ice on foot to the North Pole, and a few years later she would lead the first all-female team across the ice to the South Pole.  She remains the only woman to achieve this.  Since then she’s founded the Ann Bancroft Foundation, “to give girls an opportunity to explore their potential and find their place in the world.” 

On that visit to Northfield, Paul -- whose further explorations have included retracing Theodore Roosevelt's 1914 trek through the Amazon -- brought along his lead sled dog Zap and stopped by our house to ask if Zap could stay overnight in the garage while he and Ann ran around town.  “What do we feed him?  How do we walk him?” I was both shocked and surprised that he would entrust this valuable animal to us, since we’d only just met.

“Oh, don’t worry,” he said.  “He’ll let you know when he needs a walk, and you know the old saying ‘What does he eat?’ and the answer is ‘Anything he wants to.’”  It turned out – and part of my story explained – sled dogs only eat a couple times a week, and then they pretty much gorge themselves.  This wasn’t one of those days.  Our kids became the center of the neighborhood universe as other kids dropped by to see Zap, a gentle giant when he wasn’t leading his team.


My time talking with both Paul and Ann was equally amazing and I was mesmerized by the power that Ann exuded – a “giant” in her own right even though she’s only about 5 feet tall.  Today is her 60th birthday and she’s still looking for new worlds to conquer.  “This journey is not over,” she said.  “Our education initiatives have so much momentum, and we're committed to sharing even more stories … when we return.”

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