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Being Recognized By Heads Of State

Updated: Oct 6, 2022

The recent deaths of Queen Elizabeth ll and Mikhail Gorbachev, two heads of state who touched the world of polar exploration in their own ways, reminds me of the importance of recognition in adventure; and not in the way you might think.

Queen Elizabeth ll was the patron of at least two polar expeditions; the British North Greenland Expedition from 1952-1954 and the Commonwealth Trans Antarctic Expedition from 1955-1958. A video clip from that era shows her visiting the members of the British North Greenland Expedition before their departure (check out their boots, that style is still used today!) The video's narration prevents being able to hear the conversation between the recently crowned Queen and the expedition members, but I imagine her saying, "You certainly are brave for going to Greenland. How cold do you expect it will get, and what does your family think of all this?" followed by "Well I do thank you for your service to the Commonwealth." Her recognition of the challenges to come, and her words of encouragement provided not only a sense of pride and purpose but also legitimacy to the expedition.

Queen Elizabeth II visiting the British North Greenland Expedition in 1952

Years later, in 1989 during the Cold War, our good friend and colleague Paul Schurke dreamed of an Arctic expedition to bridge the icy chasm in American-Soviet relations. Together with Russian explorer Dmitry Shparo he led a cross-cultural expedition that traversed 1,000 miles from Siberia across the Bering Strait to Alaska by dogsled and ski; a significant feat that was officially recognized by both President George Bush and Mikhail Gorbachev. A year later Gorbachev hosted Paul and Dmitry at an event to commend the expedition leaders personally. Reporter David Ramseur captured the atmosphere when he wrote... Minnesotan Paul Schurke told me he memorized his greeting in Russian, but became so nervous, “I went into a nonsensical rant in completely unintelligible Russian.” "And then Gorbachev did a beautiful thing,” Schurke recalled. “He very discreetly reached over, tugged the sleeve of my suit jacket and said: ‘If you can cross the Bering Strait in the wintertime during the Cold War, you can speak to me in Russian. Now Paul, slow down and start over.’”

Paul Schurke (right) and Dmitry Shparo (left) with Mikhail Gorbachev (second from right) celebrating the Bering Bridge Expedition

Jump ahead a decade and a half, in 2006, I found myself having a conversation with Prince Albert ll of Monaco at the Longyearbyen Airport. He was embarking on a North Pole Dogsled expedition to commemorate the 100 year anniversary of his great-great-grandfather's Arctic expeditions in Spitsbergen. Among the priorities of his expedition (which by chance was guided by Dmitry Shparo) was highlighting climate change and its devastating effects in the Arctic. I was also dogsledding to the North Pole as a guide on PolarExplorer's two degree dogsled expedition, along with Rick Sweitzer and Paul Schurke. At the time I was collecting the signatures of fellow polar colleagues for a petition calling for strong climate legislation to share with various heads of state. Prince Albert ll and I talked briefly about our respective expeditions before he recognized and commended our efforts to address climate change. A few days later we saw his team again at the Barneo Basecamp where Paul and Dmitry enjoyed a brief reunion before the Prince embarked on his expedition, and we on ours.

Prince Albert ll of Monaco talks with PolarExplorers director Annie Aggens in April 2006 about climate change and their respective North Pole dogsled expeditions.

Recognition always feels good. But it doesn't have to come from a head of state to be significant. In fact when it comes to recognizing the POTENTIAL in any adventure the most important recognition needs to come from YOU. As polar explorer Fridtjof Nansen once wrote, adventure in and of itself allows, "something that develops not only the body but the soul as well, and it has a deeper meaning for a people than most of us perceive." He's right. And the more open we are to finding that deeper meaning the more likely it is that our adventures will transform us in positive ways. Whether it's skiing to the South Pole and climbing Mt. Vinson, or following in the footsteps of Earnest Shackleton, or discovering that you can THRIVE and not just survive in the cold; adventures of this magnitude always have monumental potential for good things to come from them.

Adventurers resting against a dogsled on a North Pole expedition
Resting against a dogsled while en route to the North Pole. How and when do you reflect on your experiences?

How do you recognize the potential for transformation in your own adventures? We'd love to hear your tips and tricks to commemorate, celebrate, and recognize moments or lessons that you'll carry with you for the rest of your life.


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