Gosport’s polar adventurer Paula Reid: The rebel with a bucket-load of causes

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It was an unusual welcome, but one totally in keeping with the character of this ebullient woman and her breathtaking, non-stop lifestyle.

Paula Reid of Gosport who made it to the South Pole

Paula Reid of Gosport who made it to the South Pole

We were studying a map of the world in the hallway, a map festooned with coloured pins.

One colour denotes the countries she has visited. There are 56 of those.

Her finger hovers over Borneo, Indonesia and Papua New Guinea. ‘I absolutely love the jungle. It’s my favourite environment,’ she says reaching down to produce the highly-decorated genital protector worn by ethnic groups in New Guinea – their only form of clothing. It is thin and tapered, but impressively long.

Paula turns around and fishes out a long piece of worn and battered wood. ‘That’s the paddle I used to paddle down the Mekong.’

Another trip and more jungle.

Which is odd because I’ve turned up at her home in Alverstoke, Gosport, to talk about her latest adventure, as far away from a steaming jungle as you are likely to get on planet Earth – her 621-mile skiing trudge across Antarctica to the South Pole.

Last month she became only the fourth British and 14th international woman to have skied the Messner route from the coast of that continent to the pole.

It took 46 days – 46, nine-12-hour days of skiing. And the constant repetition of the same action has left her with a rare medical condition which has turned her into the centre of medical attention back home.

It’s called Polar Thigh and it nearly put an end to her polar high when the condition developed just seven days into her trek.

‘I had to have the physical ability to cover a minimum daily distance and the mental stamina to continue in extreme conditions when I was exhausted and in great pain,’ she says sitting gingerly on her sofa, her blistered thighs still swathed in bandages.

But it is that sheer determination to succeed which has led her down the fork in the road in her life which marks her out from most of the rest of us.

Long before the phrase ‘bucket list’ became common parlance (things to do before you kick it), Paula had compiled her own lengthy inventory of life goals. She was 13.

Paula says: ‘I don’t like the expression ‘‘bucket list’’. I just call it ‘‘living life to the full’’ and it all started when I was 13 and I suddenly had this urge to break away from life’s norms.

‘I became a rebel and had a group of friends at school who were also mavericks. They were an unusual crowd and we started to break the rules and muck around, but always because I wanted to stretch myself.

‘Up to that point I’d been a goody two shoes, but when I broke away from that I started to enjoy life more, enjoy it on my terms.’

At 13, at the end of each year she wrote her annual headlines – the most memorable things she had achieved in the past 12 months.

‘I realised some years were bereft of activity and some contained five or six really cool things I’d done.’

One of those was a month-long school trip to a remote village in India when she was 16 where she and seven other pupils helped build a well and a community centre.

‘That experience sparked something in me which changed my life,’ she says.

‘I’d been abroad on family holidays to Spain and the Channel Islands, but that was my first big trip.

‘I loved it – the hugely different culture, learning about how others live and just talking to people.

‘I came alive on that trip and that’s when I started putting out feelers about living life to the full.’

It was then that she started drawing up that bucket list. ‘It included everything I wanted to do in my life.

‘They could be countries I wanted to visit, places in the UK I wanted to visit; challenges tiny or huge; fun things. This was about 25 years ago and I’ve done 109 of them, although I keep adding to the ‘to do’ list all the time. You have to don’t you,’ laughs the 47-year-old.

‘But I do find that I’m much more likely to achieve an item on my list if it’s written down.

‘I add things when I’ve had an interesting conversation with someone who says ‘‘why don’t you do x?’’.’

On the wall above us are two enormous photographs – yachting pictures of Paula in action on a yacht in the Southern Ocean.

Ten years ago she sailed around the world as part of the Global Challenge event during which she met her partner Alex, an avid yachtsman who was a crewmate.

‘That was a decade ago and I was getting twitchy, itching to do something else big when I heard about these trips to ski to the South Pole.’

She applied, was accepted and then began 12 months of incredibly arduous training.

In the front garden of her home in St Mark’s Road are two large tyres.

Part of her training regime meant dragging them through the streets of Gosport, across the Browndown training camp and along the beaches of Lee-on-the-Solent and along to Hill Head. And back.

Polar Paula, as she has now been dubbed, needed to be that fit to cope with the pain of her ulcerated thighs.She collapsed in pain when she reached the pole, but only after she briefly, very briefly, changed into a Union Flag dress she had taken for the occasion. ‘I did it, that’s the most important thing. I actually did it.’

Paula, who runs her own leadership development company, adds: ‘I took two sayings from my company with me. One was “pain is temporary, pride is forever” and the other was “chose your attitude”. I had them printed on my skis to keep me going. It worked.’