First Singapore woman to ski to the South Pole
In 2009, Sophia Pang became the first Singaporean woman to reach the South Pole. The mother of three was 37 years old when she achieved this feat. The gruelling journey involved skiing a distance of 900 kilometres and climbing as high as 12,000 feet, in temperatures as low as minus 40 degrees Celsius. Sophia was part of an eight-woman team from the Kaspersky Commonwealth Antarctic Expedition who undertook the journey.
Sophia graduated in 1994 from the Nanyang Business School with a degree in Accountancy. The IT consultant and freelance fitness trainer took a year off work in 2008 to spend more time with her three children. Playing the multiple roles of being a wife, mother and worker, she realised the importance of having time for herself.
She revealed in an interview, “Quite a lot of people, perhaps because they got married, had children, actually forget about themselves. They get tied up in things and forget they should take time off and make themselves happy."
Around the time that she had this epiphany, Sophia noticed an online advertisement calling for volunteers to be part of an expedition to the South Pole. She jumped at the opportunity. She put in her application and was selected over the more than 70 others who also tried for a spot on the team.
In March 2009 she became part of the Kaspersky Commonwealth Antarctic Expedition. The other seven women on the team were from the United Kingdom, India, Cyprus, Ghana, Brunei, New Zealand and Jamaica.
Sophia went through an intensive five-month training conducted by the Singapore Sports Medicine Centre and the Changi Sports Medicine Centre. The training programme included strength training, cardiovascular workouts, and stretching and core exercises. She had a team of advisors that included doctors, physiologists, and dieticians.
Sophia and the team set off on 22 November 2009 from the Antarctic coast. Skiing six to 10 hours a day, covering an average of 15 miles daily, the team reached the South Pole on 29 December 2009.
On her return to Singapore, President SR Nathan presented Sophia with a commemorative plate in honour of her achievement. The experience made her realise the potential of the human spirit to go beyond their comfort zone and overcome odds. She now uses her experience to inspire youth to build their physical and mental resilience to meet life’s challenges.
"Whenever people ask, I always say I’m an "accidental explorer"... The whole idea behind it is to get ordinary people inspired. It’s not for people who are experts in adventure. My message is that ordinary people can do something different if they want to."