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Mon, Feb 15, 2010
The Straits Times
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Mum of three sets her sights on South Pole
by Teo Wan Gek

Move aside, Everest. Ms Sophia Pang has got her own 'mountain' to climb: The 36-year-old mother of three will be part of an eight-woman team that will trek to the South Pole in December.
She will attempt to plant a Singapore flag on New Year's Day 2010 at the southernmost point on earth, along with her teammates from Brunei, Cyprus, Ghana, India, Jamaica, New Zealand and Britain. The eight are taking part in the first Commonwealth Women's Antarctic Expedition, a 40-day mission which marks the 60th anniversary of the Commonwealth.

The success of the Singapore Women's Everest Team has been an inspiration to Ms Pang.

'They have been role models, proving to women that it can be done. I hope to be the next, and they have made me even more determined to succeed,' she said.

The expedition aims to feature the achievements of women around the world and promote greater inter-cultural understanding. The South Pole was picked to highlight environmental and climate change issues.

Ms Pang chanced on an application form for the expedition online last August and found it strange that it had no questions about an applicant's fitness or adventure experience. 'All they asked was: As a woman, what message do you want to bring forth to the women in your country. Being someone's daughter, a mother now and also a career woman, I think I make a good representation of the women in Singapore.'

When she submitted the application, her 12-year-old daughter, Inez, said it would be a miracle if she were chosen.

'She thought it was something that I would never do. But I had to try. If you don't try, you will never know,' said Ms Pang, who also has a son, Javier, 10, and a four-year-old daughter, Kyna.

Her 40-year-old husband runs a family business in telecommunications, and they live in a private apartment in Serangoon.

She beat more than 70 Singaporean applicants for the coveted spot in early March.

The freelance information technology consultant and aerobics instructor has, since last month, been clocking one-hour sessions of training at least three times a week at the Singapore Sports Medicine Centre, which is sponsoring her training. The sessions involve strength training and pulling a sledge on concrete ground loaded with 120kg of weights.

She is expected to haul over 80kg of food and gear during the trip, which covers a gruelling distance of 900km over snow-covered terrain in extreme temperatures of minus 40 deg C. She has to ski the entire way. Previously, the only skiing Ms Pang, the sole mother in the team, had done was during holidays in Korea.

'My biggest challenge will be the mental focus. During the trip, we will be repeating the same action over and over again. There may be 'whiteouts', and we won't see anything for a long time,' she said.

She even sought the advice of adventurer Khoo Swee Chiow, 45, who skied to the South Pole in 1999.

He said: 'The scenery at the South Pole doesn't change every day. You need that determination to push through till the end.'

He thinks Ms Pang has a high chance of success, if she keeps up her physical training and the team's morale. 'The No. 1 challenge will be the cold and how to avoid frostbite. That is the danger,' he said.

But all that may come to naught if Ms Pang does not secure the funding - US$70,000 (S$101,000) - that she needs for the expedition.

She has sent out 20 e-mail messages to companies like SingTel, Snow City, OCBC Bank and Banyan Tree since last month, but she has yet to receive replies.

She remains hopeful, though, and is already planning what to take with her. 'I think I will take my youngest daughter's pillow on the expedition, something to remind me of my family,' she said.

This article was first published in The Straits Times.

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