Interviews

Interview with Kim Marie Spence, Jamaica’s Representative in the Women’s Antarctic Expedition

Written by Xavier Murphy

This month we interview  Kim Marie Spence, who was recently selected to represent Jamaica in the Women’s Antarctic Expedition. She is one of the eight women from countries across the Commonwealth, who will participate in the Women’s Antarctic Expedition. The women represent five continents, six faiths and seven languages. On the expedition these women will tackle the immense mental and physical challenges of Antarctica.

What is your background?
I am a Rhodes Scholar. I studied Development Studies. I am also incharge of Business Development/Regionalisation at CaPRI (Caribbean Policy Research Institute), having been the ED in the past. A compeltely different world, except that both require inner strength and commitment. 

How does it feel to be one of the first Jamaican women to be chosen for the expedition?
I actually am the first. There has never been a Commonwealth Women’s Antarctic Expedition before. It is record-breaking both on the individual levels and team level. Many of the team members, including myself, will be the first from their country to ski to the South Pole. 

What inspired you to apply for the expedition?
It never occurred to me to do anything else. When I heard about it, I was so excited – new adventure, crossing boundaries and planting the Jamaican flag somewhere new. How do you say no to that?

Was the process difficult?
The process is not yet done. The final selection trip to Norway was a continuation of a process that started with the first application. However, the road to Norway was difficult. We – myself and the other finalist, Alecia Maragh – had difficulty finding funding and sponsorship. At the very last minute, Jamaica National Building Society stepped in to fund us. Amazing! We had better luck on the training side. In my case, Juliet Cuthbert came in for strength. We also had leon Barnaby of the JDF training us as well in the endurance side of things.

Personally, it was difficult for me – I had not strength trained in years! I had to dig deep to complete the circuits. Also finding the time is dificult – as now I continue to train for THE trip – the trip to Antarctica at the end of this year. I know have a much better idea of what I am training for

Moreover you have find the personal strength to continue. I was lucky to have supportive friends, within my running club – the Jamdammers – and outside of that – friends who themselves would never take such a challenge on. The Jamaican people have been supportive on an individual level – amazing! However, you still have to fight your sense of doubt – it is the South Pole, after all. Antarctica is no joke! One of my teammates has put up a quote from Capt. Robert Falcom Scott -  “The Antarctic is a place where the Gods crumble and the humble rise to surpass them” 

You have been training for the expedition the past few weeks. How vigorous is the training?
It is vigorous. I used the extended time to start more gradually this time. But you are taining almost everyday – sometimes twice a day to fit in all three elements needed – strength, endurance and cardiovascular. I work out in the gym with Juliet Cuthbert thrice a week. Run about 5 times and then a long run, hike or something arduous on the weeknd for endurance. it defintiely gives new meaning to TGIF! 

Has a close friendship developed with the rest of the team?
Team Selection was one of the strangest things. No one prepares you for how you feel. You are glad and scared that you have been chosen at the same time! Then you miss your teammates that are being sent home. All 16 bonded in that first week.  The extremities of the environment and the need to learn (and admit that you do not know) built a trust that is hard to describe. Your wellbeing lies in your team’s hands! If one makes a mistake is could harm us all – such as leaving the tent ‘door’ open at night. 

The final 8 have bonded a lot – we spent a lot of time together on the Hardangervidda, the plateau in Norway, just talking about who we are, where we are coming from (8 women, 8 different countries including India, Singapore, Cyprus, Ghana, New Zealand, Brunei, UK, Jamaica), and what we hope to achieve! The we went to the launch of the expedition together.  When we are chosen, my initial feeling was that I was looking at my second family! 

Have you met all the ladies who are going on the expedition?
Yes, Final selection occurred in Norway.

The ladies are from different countries. Which country interested you the most?
Interesting question! I suppose Cyprus – the divided country. I knew very little about it – in the first night I learnt so much about the politics and the divisions of Cyprus. I have learnt much about the religion and lifestyle thereof. However, I have learnt a lot about all the countries. However, I have also learnt that no matter where we are from, who we are as persons is key – our values, our own distinct personalities! Being on the ice makes us move beyond mere stereotypes! 

Will you be blogging the experience?
Yes – we will be blogging! We have to record this trek! 

Is it your first time skiing? Is this your first time seeing snow?
Yes, it is my first time skiing – it required detemrination to learn in such a short time! Not my first time seeing snow – though the sheer amount of snow in Norway made me question whether I had ever really seen snow!

After going through training are you having second thoughts?
No. Sponsorship is the thing I am most scared about. I need the support of Jamaicans. We are setting up a proper trasnparent account – so that Jamaicans have the opportunity to help in the road to the South Pole! Jamaica has to be represented there. I will give you the details once they are finalised! 

Will you be carrying a small Jamaican flag to stick on the top of the mountain?
I will be carrying a big Jamaican flag. It is national record and milestone, as well as a personal one. I am going to the South Pole – not climbing a mountain (except the one in all our minds!). 

How doest it feel to represent Jamaica ?
Amazing! Jamaica and Jamaicans have been a source of support and pride for my entire life. Beijing! Usain! Asafa! Jody Maxwell! Sean Paul! and the list goes on! I am. proud to be able to give back 

What “luxury” items are you allowed carrying with you on the expedition? Can you carry a computer or music player?
Music player for me – need to find a warm bag for my IPod! We will have a computer to blog with – but it is a team one. We are pulling anything we pack – literally carrying your own weight. 

What type of music will you listening while you are on the expedition?
That remains to be seen. Will Jamaicans.com be contributing to my playlist? I would love that! My workout musical tastes keep shifting. Visitors to your site can email us.

What book will you be reading?
Online? Again, I am open to suggestions – but it better be funny! Visitors to your site can email us.

How can other Jamaicans cheer you on?
We will be setting up an account for Jamaicans toliterally help send me to the South Pole – Jamaicans.com will be informed as soon as all is finalised within the next few weeks! This venture is a huge financial undertaking for 8 women – but we will do it and I am determined that Jamaica will be represented!

Also message of support can be emailed to me at [email protected] I have been receiving some great sponsorship ideas there. Facebook Groups  – there is Southpole Trod – my personal group; Team Jamaica – a lot of the diaspora has been logging here – it was started by one of the Jamaican team’s biggest overseas supporters, Shirley Irons; and the general Commonwealth Expedition site. So people log on and email, comment, send ideas, send greetings, send funds!

Thanks for the interview. Any final thoughts?  
Thanks to Jamaicans.com for tracking this campaign!

About the author

Xavier Murphy