In December 2021, Genny Brown will attempt to become the first woman from Aruba to ski to the South Pole.
The Expedition will entail skiing approximately 120 km whilst pulling a sledge weighing roughly 60-70kg containing her supplies and tent. The conditions will be extreme with temperatures that could drop to - 50 degrees and severe winds. The aim of the expedition is to raise £25,000 for Lyme Aid UK who provide grants for people with lower incomes to get privately tested for Lyme Disease.
Genny, what drew you to this challenge, specifically?
In 2016, I was diagnosed with Lyme Disease after suffering with its debilitating effects and being misdiagnosed for three harrowing years. For those three years my quality of life dwindled severely and the doctors and specialists I was referred to just couldn’t figure out what the issue was. It was frustrating being told that I’d most likely suffer from viral fatigue and be on some form of antibiotics for the foreseeable future, and that I should consider changing careers to something less stressful as it was doubtful that I’d ever regain my old vigour and energy.
Thankfully, I was correctly tested and diagnosed, and after ten months of treatment I began to see a significant improvement in my general health and was able to start working out again, albeit very slowly. From that point I knew I wanted to raise awareness on the insidious effects of Lyme Disease and work hard to ensure that others wouldn’t suffer as I had; or that they wouldn’t have to spend up to £500 for a private test in order to access treatment on the NHS.
I was working for a company where the owner had skied to both the North and South Poles and had invited his guide to come and give a talk in the office. A colleague who knew I was looking for fundraising ideas encouraged me to come along and hear him speak. I remember thinking, ‘I could never ski to the Poles, I’m from Aruba, and we don’t do prolonged bouts of cold!’ By the time the guide had finished speaking I was really inspired to begin what has been the most exciting and arduous three years of preparation, fundraising and training.
Are there any aspects of the challenge you’re feeling particularly excited and/or daunted by?
If I’m honest, the whole thing excites me. When I stop to think of what I’ll actually be achieving once I finally get there it blows my mind! To go from severe fatigue to being able to ski in the Antarctic, pulling all my own provisions and gear in brutally unforgiving conditions, will be one of the most exciting and profound achievements in my life.
What’s your latest (especially given Covid)?
At the beginning of September, the 2020/2021 Antarctic Season was officially cancelled due to Covid-19, which wasn’t a huge surprise, but still very disappointing. I was really hoping that I’d be able to go this year as I’ve been training and fundraising since 2017. But I am also happy that the decision was taken to do things safely rather than to disregard the fact that we’re all still finding our way when it comes to handling this pandemic.
For the next few months the plan is to maintain my fitness and get back into running and hiking. In the new year I’ll head off to Scandinavia for polar training and resume tyre pulling, altitude training and roller-skiing in the park as part of my training regime.
Over the years of preparing for this expedition I’ve learned to expect and embrace setbacks and failure, and this mindset has helped me to process the ups and downs that invariably come my way. So, I have decided to focus on areas where I can improve and make the most of the gift of time that I have been given.
The project is not just focusing on Lyme Disease, but on raising money for people on low incomes. Was this dual focus always built into the project?
Yes, definitely! Lyme Aid UK is a charity that gives people with low incomes grants to get tested overseas for Lyme Disease. The tests that we currently have in the UK often give false negative results which can restrict people from accessing treatment in a timely fashion.
After my own experience I wanted to break any barriers that hinder people from accessing treatment. And whilst the financial barrier can be a particularly problematic issue, I found it was also important to focus on the voice of the patient. I knew firsthand how intimidating it can be to sit with a specialist who might disregard your questions and concerns, so I wanted to be part of an organisation that would also be able to provide full support as a patient navigates what can be a very scary season of life.
People need to know that there is hope; that they can overcome this disease and go on to do things they’d never imagined possible!
In addition, you will be the first Aruban women to attempt this feat. How does this representation influence your approach to the expedition? How does it make you feel?
I am extremely proud to be representing Aruba in this manner, especially since we are more likely to be associated with warm sunny beaches than cold polar landscapes. The support that I’ve received from my fellow Arubans has been phenomenal, especially on days when I’m discouraged and feel like giving up.
Our slogan is ‘One Happy Island’ and as a nation we endeavour to find joy in even the most menial and arduous tasks. It is with that spirit that I mean to achieve this huge undertaking.
Were there other Aruban adventurers you have been inspired by?
Whilst we may not have many adventurers, we do have many great athletes and political and historical figures who have all been a great source of inspiration and encouragement.
I’ve always loved history, so Boy Ecury, who fought with the Dutch resistance in WWII, was always an inspiration to stand up for what you believe in and defend the defenceless. He was assassinated by German firing squad because he wouldn’t give up details on his unit after extensive torture in a Dutch POW camp.
Another Aruban who greatly inspires me is Sara-Quita Offringa, who is a seventeen-time freestyle windsurfing world champion. Her zest for life, hard work and dedication to her sport is just so refreshing and uplifting!
How can people learn more and stay tuned?
To learn more about my story, follow my progress or drop me a line, you can always go to my website.
I post regularly on Facebook and Instagram under the handle @antarcticaruban.
If anyone wishes to donate to Lyme Aid UK they can also do so via my GoFundMe page.