Maria Leijerstam defied brutal Antarctic conditions to reach the South Pole in record time has told of how a knee injury threatened to derail her attempt and meeting Prince Harry
A woman who defied brutal Antarctic conditions to reach the South Pole in record time has told of her ordeal and how injury threatened her mission.
Vale of Glamorgan adventurer Maria Leijerstam, 35, pedalled across the ice continent on her self-styled “Polar Cycle” to reach the pole in just 10 days – 12 days ahead of schedule.
She also fought off fierce competition from American Daniel Burton and Spaniard Juan Menendez Granados, who were also aiming to set a new world record.
The challenge even received Royal approval. Maria met Prince Harry at an Antarctic base camp from where he was returning from his own Antarctic adventure, trekking with Walking With The Wounded.
Miss Leijerstam said: “He was absolutely lovely – when you’re standing there in Antarctica in polar clothing, there’s no difference between anybody. And that’s how he’d like it as well. But he did say he was keen to get home.”
Despite an auspicious start, her journey was far from plain sailing.
At one point an injury to her knee threw Maria’s mission into doubt.
She said: “The knee got worse, so much worse and I took a lot of painkillers and it was the first hour of every morning that was horrendously excruciating. It felt like someone was trying to pull my kneecap off.”
And on Christmas Day her sophisticated tracking gear sent a “dead man” signal to her worried family watching her progress eagerly back in Wales.
She said: “My father was very quick to point out when I arrived back at Heathrow that he’d had a dead man alert on Christmas Day. I’m definitely not dead and I’m still a woman.”
Miss Leijerstam was routinely forced to confront 100mph winds and –40°C temperatures.
She said: “I was the first person to cycle to the pole. People have attempted it in the past. My longest day was 16 hours, my shortest was 10-and-a-half. Closer to the pole I was doing longer and longer days.”
Miss Leijerstam refused to rule out a North Pole expedition but has said that she will be working on fund-raising efforts and an upcoming documentary on ITV.
She said: “My family kind of hope that one day I’ll settle down and stop running off and doing these things.
“I was kind of hoping that this would break me and it didn’t.
“I’m still eager to do stuff. Ideas are starting to materialise in my head.”
Miss Leijerstam also paid tribute to her custom-made polar cycle.
She said: “My route and my polar cycle were the two things that really differentiated me – and I guess my fitness; I’ve done an awful lot of training.”
Maria denied herself most creature comforts on the trip except an iPod, which she avoided using until later in the trip.
She said: “I didn’t use it until day five when things were getting really bad.
“I actually had only 20 songs on it because I ran out of time before I left home.
“I had a few Christmas songs. It drove me absolutely up the wall. I did start singing by the end of it.”