How Harpreet Chandi became a global icon with her record-breaking polar expeditions


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Avantika Shankar

Records don’t mean much to Harpreet Chandi. Known the world over as “Polar Preet,” the Punjabi-origin British Army medical officer earned global recognition earlier this year for completing the longest solo unassisted and unsupported polar expedition by any person in history. This achievement comes on the heels of her first expedition to Antarctica in 2021, which made her the first woman of colour to complete a solo polar expedition. This year’s record-breaking journey received patronage from Kate Middleton, and on her return, Chandi was appointed an MBE—the third highest-ranking Order of the British Empire award—by Princess Anne. Still, even as she recovers from her adventure and juggles public engagements, she is adamant that she isn’t motivated by the idea of breaking world records. In fact, she insists her journey wasn’t about her at all.   

Harpreet Chandi, who received patronage from Kate Middleton, gets congratulated by the Princess of Wales

“For me, it was about pushing boundaries,” says the 33-year-old army physiotherapist over a Zoom call from the UK. “It’s really important for me to say that if I can go and do this, then we, as individuals, can go and do anything.” Chandi has always been one to go against the grain, pushing herself out of her comfort zone to do things most people wouldn’t. When she was 19, she came across an advertisement for the British Army reserves in her hometown of Derby, and immediately decided to enlist, despite some people in her family not being too happy about it. “I was doing something that was different from what was expected of me, and I hadn’t asked permission,” she says. “It took a while, but after doing the degree, getting onto physio and joining the army reserves, I just started doing whatever I wanted.”

In tandem with her army training, Chandi began running half marathons followed by full ones and realised she enjoyed long, endurance events. “I would do a field exercise with the army, and then I would want to do more outside the army as well,” she recalls. “I enjoyed that sense of reward I would feel. Even if I spent the weekend in the rain outside, and it was a bit miserable at the time, afterwards, I would feel like, ‘Wow, I did that!’”

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