FWC backs Wendy Searle in her race to the South Pole


FWC recently announced that it will be supporting Wendy Searle, a forces wife, on her solo, unsupported and unassisted expedition to the South Pole.   We caught up with Wendy this week to see how she’s getting on, now that there are less than 100 days to go before she departs.

“I’m single-minded about this expedition.  It has required dedication and sacrifice for years. My poor family are used to it now but training every day is non-negotiable – even if that’s very early in the morning (yuck!), or very late at night.”

Wendy’s commitment has seen her training in the dark, in all types of horrible weather and pulling her beloved tyre around the woods at night.  However, as the FWC volcano team will attest, there is more than just physical preparation required if Wendy is going to be in prime position to be the fastest woman across Antarctica.

“The mental preparation has been harder; we’re not alone very often and it’s this that I think is going to be the real challenge – making decisions, navigating, hauling my supplies, getting myself out of the tent every day to get going.”  Wendy explained that being the sole carer of her four children while her husband is away on operations has helped her get in the right frame of mind. “It can be extremely tiring juggling it all when my husband is away – especially now I have to fit in training. Recently I was training in Greenland and found myself thinking ‘oh it’s not as bad as looking after the family and working during an op tour – after all I only have myself to worry about out here!” Something which we don’t doubt many of our readers can empathise with!


Talking of what inspired this epic adventure, Wendy said, “I was the expedition manager for a group of soldiers who did an Antarctic traverse.  While I was supporting them, I got hooked on the idea of trying to do a Polar journey myself, reading a lot of Polar history and being inspired by the likes of Shackleton and Amundsen.  It was through their expedition leader and advisor to the FWC volcano team, Captain Louis Rudd MBE, that I was introduced to FWC.”

So, unsupported and unassisted – ‘what’s this!?’ we hear you cry.  Well, Wendy will be carrying her entire kit, equipment, food and fuel for a journey that is expected to last around five to six weeks.  In order to keep to the terms of the record attempt, this means she must not drop off or pick up any supplies and receive absolutely no outside assistance.  Quite an extraordinary thing to be doing, alone, over the Christmas period - so we were wondering what is driving Wendy to pursue this?  “My aims are to inspire women and girls to overcome challenges and barriers to adventure. In addition, I will be undertaking scientific research and raising awareness of the fragility of this otherworldly continent through work with the UK Antarctic Heritage Trust.”

Wendy will also be raising money for two charities close to her heart, Youth Adventure Trust, which she volunteers with helping disadvantaged young people access expeditions of their own, and ABF The Soldiers’ Charity where Wendy worked for many years providing vital welfare assistance to soldiers, veterans and their families.  “I’ve seen first-hand how it helped so quickly when required.  For example, when a veteran couldn’t afford a new boiler, or a family needs their mortgage paying as a veteran had been kidnapped (this is a real example), the charity stepped in.  It might be quieter than some military charities, but it does excellent work.”

For anyone who is au fait with the FWC ethos, you’ll know that we share Wendy’s ambition to demonstrate what the power of challenge and adventure can do for us, which is why we are so proud to support her on this expedition.

“FWC just get it. They get what it’s like to juggle a busy family and work life with a partner in the Armed Forces who’s constantly away.  Yet amongst all this they get the importance of carving out a place for yourself and maintaining your own identity and independence.  Their support is so important – that feeling of FWC having my back, helping me with fundraising when they have their own commitments, that belief in me and what I’m trying to do, it’s more than I could ever have asked for.”


Lastly we asked Wendy what advice she has for anyone seeking their own adventures.  “Whatever your dream, start there and work back.  Start now – not next week, or after the summer holidays, now, tonight.  Whether it is putting your trainers on and going for your first run, or speaking to someone for advice on a challenge you’ve set your heart on.  Don’t just start though - keep going.  I look back at the last four years and I sometimes pinch myself when I realise just how far I’ve come.  Small steps done consistently really add up.  It wouldn’t be an exaggeration to say this expedition has changed my life, and that’s before I’ve even got to the start line!”

Wendy leaves for Antarctica in November 2019 and will be updating her news feeds daily.  If you’d like to follow her journey then you can find Wendy at the following social media channels: 

Web:                            www.southpole2020.com

Twitter / Instagram:     @betweensnowandsky


Turning up alone can be more daunting than the challenge

This week is loneliness awareness week (LAW)*, an aspect of forces life which many of us will be all too familiar with.  Long deployments and moving from place to place often has the unfortunate side effect of isolation for partners of serving military and at the FWC, it is what motivates us to connect our members through exciting adventures and challenges.

As we approach the second annual FW100, which will see up to 100 FWC members climb Pen y Fan in Wales, we ask ourselves what is it that motivates these women to sign up to FWC, often attending the challenges alone?   We spoke to Katie, from Lancashire, following her first FWC event in May.

“I found out about the FWC through my local RAF hive community Facebook page.  I love all things fitness related, especially walking, and have wanted to do the Yorkshire 3 Peaks Challenge for a while.  Not knowing anyone previously, I felt somewhat nervous and apprehensive but one of my favourite memories from the event was meeting many other fellow military wives and learning about their experiences of the challenges we face.”

In the largest study of its kind, the BBC’s Loneliness Experiment in collaboration with Wellcome Collection revealed that people who felt lonely most often also had the most intense and longest lasting feelings of loneliness.  So when we feel like we’re ‘stuck in a rut’, actually how easy is it to get out there, meet new people and try something new like the FWC?  Katie said “Just do it!  I was a little apprehensive about signing up however as soon as I arrived I met other women who like me, had come alone.  I was very welcomed and straight away felt part of the team.  There was a great sense of camaraderie and that we were all in it together.  While the event was to tackle the Yorkshire 3 Peaks, it was so much more than that! It was about opening up, listening to others and enjoying the great outdoors.”

If you are a forces wife or partner, why not come and join us in Wales on 29th June 2019 to celebrate FW100 and Armed Forces Day?  The walk will be a gentle meander up one of the most iconic mountains in the military community and afterwards we’ll be refreshing ourselves with a BBQ and a beer.  What better way!?  For more information, visit www.forceswiveschallenge.org.

*LAW is a new awareness campaign championed by the Marmalade Trust, an organisation dedicated to tackling loneliness.  If you’d like to read more about it, please visit its website at www.marmaladetrust.org.

Katie lives with her husband, Kevin of the Royal Air Force and their cat, Poppy

Katie lives with her husband, Kevin of the Royal Air Force and their cat, Poppy

FWC Three Peaks Challenge - an incredible 24hrs of sheer determination, team spirit and achievement

Tap…………………. tap……….. tap……. tap…. tap… tap tap tap tap…

Rain drops the size of what sounded like golf balls pounded the roof of the minibus, growing in frequency and ferocity. The rain was being propelled through the dark stormy night of Wasdale Head by the increasingly wild winds, whilst the red tail lights of other minibuses parked up waiting for their teams of ‘Three Peakers’, glowed ominously as I peered through rain obscured windscreen.  The minibus silent but for the sound of our driver catching some much needed sleep, the red glow and occasional flash of a head torch darting between the buses was a reassuring sign that we weren’t alone.

The FWC Three Peak Challenge was well into its 17th hour at this point. Having bagged Ben Nevis earlier that Saturday the ever fearless and determined team of 26 ladies and 5 mountain guides set off into the Lake District blackness, equipped with their rucksacks, kit and a huge amount of what we had come to call, the FWC spirit, together we CAN achieve anything. This belief amongst the team had bonded the girls from the moment the drivers of the three minibuses turned the key to their engines at 6am the previous Friday morning. Weaving their way north up the motorways of Great Britain, the minibuses filled with chatter swinging from fits of laughter to cautious admissions of nerves, fears of failing and worries about the weather.

0207 and the radio crackled into life. A strained voice battling the 65mph gusting winds confirmed a team had summited and were descending back to the minibuses! Relief as gradually similar messages filtered through finally followed in the early hours of Sunday morning by a message I will never forget… “get the minibuses fired up we’re 30 minutes outside of camp!” Get in! The girls were nearly back. As the minibuses whirred into life, engines were revved to pump the heat through to the interiors, and the boiler was fired up to heat water for the ration packs. The rain eased and the wind dropped just enough to allow the boiler to do its job and get the brews on. It was as if Scafell Pike had kept its worst for our summit attempt, wanting to test the girl’s rallying cry that together we really could achieve anything.

The sight of blue cylumes and bobbing head torches in blackness signaled the arrival of the first team back to the car park. As names were ticked off and dashes to the toilets made the air was filled with tales of extreme weather conditions, winds knocking girls off their feet, rain reaching parts of us which would normally have remained dry and visibility which was considered non-existent at the best of times. “Dulux hasn’t even discovered that shade of black!” one girl giggled as she described the view from the top and rang her soggy socks out beside the bus.  Hot drinks were administered, wet kit peeled off and the realisation of what the girls had been through crept slowly through the team like an autumnal dawn break. 

As the buses meandered at pace over the tumultuous and somewhat heart stopping roads surrounding Wasdale the adrenaline-fuelled chatter took a more reflective tone and the niggles, chaffing and muscular weariness took their place at the front of the queue to let their presence be felt.  Soon a silent sleepy hush filled the buses. The message came through at 0603. After a detailed analysis of the latest Snowdon weather forecast and a recalculation of the timings, the guides and Heather had made the decision to suspend the challenge and not proceed to Snowdon. Had Scafell Pike won? Halting us in our attempts to complete the National Three Peaks by draining our ticking clock to a point which prevented us from reaching our goal? No. Three minibuses of forces wives, tired and soggy relinquished their consciousness to the comforts of sleep. Safe and in relatively good spirits, they had summited the craggy peak of Scafell Pike despite what she threw at them and they were travelling home. A mutual respect between the mountain, with its power and might and that of the forces wives’ resilience and sheer determination to succeed had been established.

The buses pulled into the Lancaster services and the girls grabbed a hot drink and caught up with each other’s experiences of the night before. What had we all learnt? As Heather invited everyone to share their experiences of the night before, what they had learnt and what had stood out, stories of friendship and support emerged. Girls literally guiding each other blind through the blackness, a friend’s hand squeezed tight in reassurance that despite the horrific weather and conditions ‘it was ok. We will be alright’.  The lack of sleep and exertions of the night before had left emotional defences useless and the odd tear crept down the ruddy, windswept cheeks of those gathered. Even the steely, invincible grit of the mountain guides had been softened and was replaced with broad smiles of pride and the odd ‘strong’ fist bump!

What had we learnt? Realising that each of us had depths to our personality and resilience reserves that we didn’t know existed our thoughts turned to the technical and more practical side of our experience; including but not limited to:

1) Undergarments… “cotton kills!” one girl exclaimed as she told how her under garments had become soggy with the rain and had uncomfortably chaffed. “I won’t be wearing my racer-back bra again, but going for a more traditional sports bra next time” another confirmed after explaining that it had pulled on her neck and chaffed against her day sack throughout the challenge.

2)“I’m never wearing drawstring walking trousers again!”… fits of laughter erupted as this person humorously explained that she had nearly lost her trousers to gravity half way up the mountain.

3) “Buy nice or buy twice!” the girls nodded, as it was agreed that the walking poles that had been purchased for the challenge weren’t really up to the task and like a good pair of walking boots, poles too were as personal and specific to the user! 

4) The art of layering up for the challenge and day-sack organisation were discussed. Finding coats were too warm but necessary but having no intermediate layer left some of the girls in a dilemma… however now with a cast iron excuse to buy more kit post challenge!              

5) It was unanimous that a multitude of Dry sacks, in different sizes and colours would enable one to compartmentalise kit into easy to grab smaller bags to aid the quick turnaround times between the peaks…. The learning points emerging were hitting a note with everyone gathered!

One final team photo, hugs and promises to “keep in touch, see you at the challenge” and the three minibuses departed the services, each bound for home.

There are few situations that truly warrant the word incredible. A word so flippantly used in today’s language, used alongside amazing, awesome and remarkable to describe everyday events. Scafell Pike had made sure that she had etched herself into the permanent vaults of everyone’s memory that night. She wanted to be the mountain to be remembered and talked about over her two sisters that weekend. A truly incredible night of sheer determination and will power that will be talked about for years to come by those amazing girls over glasses of fizzing prosecco and no doubt repeated by their awesome, brightly clothed mountain guides over a pub pint!