Is your girl afraid to take risks? Are you afraid to let her try? Polar explorer, educator, and motivational speaker Ann Bancroft, who in 2001 crossed Antarctica on skis with Norwegian Liv Arnesen, has been taking off on adventures since she was very young. She and Arnesen have launched several educational programs that seek out, promote, and celebrate women’s and young girls’ achievements in exploration. Here’s what she told Daughters about encouraging courage.
My first adventures were simple ones. We lived in a rural setting, so I’d just escape out the back door. There was plenty of space around, so every day was a great adventure. In fact, those early explorations were the bedrock for fortifying my dreams. They allowed me to play-act, and more practically, to learn outdoor skills such as sleeping outside in the winter.
One of the things about people my age when we were girls was that you had to be pretty resourceful within yourself and with your siblings; there weren’t so many planned activities. It was a great environment for me to develop my imagination. I could pretend I was on real Arctic expeditions.
Books also inspired me. My mother would find adventure books for me. She tried to find books with female figures; girls doing things outdoors (although I was never hindered by reading about boys, either). They had more opportunities, it seemed, but it was the adventure part that stimulated me. My mom also found me books about animals, and those particularly have stayed with me. She noticed which books made my eyes light up.
A book that inspired me when I was 12 was an adult book called Endurance by Alfred Lansing about the Shackleton expedition. I found it on my parents’ bookshelf. It also had tremendous pictures, and since I was a crummy reader—dyslexic, painfully slow—I pored over these black-and-white photos in the middle of the book. I wanted everything in them—the adventure, the camaraderie, the dog teams. The whole thing resonated with me.
But I didn’t just dream. I spent a lifetime building outdoor skills. I went to summer camp every year, and from 7th through 12th grade every summer I went to a YMCA camp in Ely, Minnesota. It’s a skills-based camp that was also a very empowering and liberating place. I could be who I was. You go on canoe outings with a small group of girls plus a female counselor. I never wanted to come home! When I was older I worked there as a counselor—I’m a lifer, I guess.
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