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Saturday, 20 December 2014

Good on yer, Helen

You really have to take your hat off to chatty, cheery, ever smiling Helen Skelton. A slip of a wee thing, she is. And at 28, no’but a bairn.

Helen Skelton photo
Helen Skelton

But her spirit of adventure is as fierce and soaring as a rocket launch. She’s crammed more triumphs over adversity into her young life than the Gobi Desert’s synchronised swimming team.

Blue Peter presenter – and every inch Cumbria’s TV darling – Helen has completed her gruelling 500 mile expedition across Antarctica for Sport Relief.

She arrived at the South Pole on Saturday – all in one piece and with the dubious honour of having become the first person to use a bike as part of an expedition to the Pole.

Not that pedalling through snow and ice was the only mode of transportation on Helen’s extraordinary journey. She also travelled by ski and kite, all the time battling with severe snowstorms, temperatures as low as -48 degrees Celsius; gritting her teeth against the pain of numerous blisters, suffering a hacking cough, stomach troubles, a bad bout of dehydration... and having nowhere to plug in her hairdryer.

That’s dedication to the cause and no mistake. No wonder this young woman has been so readily and proudly adopted as Cumbria’s fearless mascot.

Not only does she get up and get on with cramming remarkable experiences into her life, she does so to raise cash for good causes and to show that where she comes from – that being here – soft options of complaining bitterly about a rough deal, simply won’t wash.

“I've seen how Sport Relief money makes a big difference and that’s why I can't complain about any part of this (expedition) because it’s nothing compared to what some people go through every day of their lives.”

Maybe she’d be expected to say exactly that, after her much publicised, televised efforts in aid of the most needy.

But there’s no suggestion of her having got a single syllable wrong. And who could ever judge the girl as being anything other than a cracking role model for young people everywhere?

There was a time not too long ago when adventure and risk fell away from what we, in this country, were supposed to be about.

We were encouraged to play safe in everything we did, everything we said – heck, even in everything we thought.

Remember how conker fights were banned to save kids from bumps on their noses; competitive school sports avoided for fear of inflicting the disappointment of defeat? Even sledging and sliding got the thumbs down at one point, as health and safety worriers grew increasingly spooked about litigation possibilities.

The mind-set of risk and reaching high was all but erased from our psyche. As a result, a once brave, high-achieving nation of inventors, entrepreneurs, trailblazers and winners became a timid country of watchers and coy wallflowers.

What a refreshing change it is to see a young woman such as Helen Skelton grasping life by the throat and refusing to countenance failure.

Something tells me the word isn’t in her vocabulary. Though a thoroughly modern woman, with a strong career and mass media profile, she’s somehow a throw-back to a time when pioneering individuals were fully prepared to stick their necks out to make a differ-ence.

She’s been up the Amazon, dangled from high wires – in fact, there’s not much she hasn’t done to prove there’s more to life than the drudge of the every day.

Her own life is one that pushes out the boundaries of the accepted norm. Her energy, imagination and ability to impress remind us that at the end of our days it will be the experiences we shrank from we will regret – never those we attempted with enthusiasm and gusto.

This young Cumbrian woman, with nerves of steel and a can-do approach to all extremes of life has put shrinkers and shirkers of risk in their place.

By measure of what remain current standards – don’t run for fear of grazing a knee; never reach too far in case of missing your goal – this Cumbrian adventuress is little short of a marvel. No wonder her home county holds her in such high, admiring regard.

Undaunted by concerns for lack of creature comforts or convenience, unfazed by warnings for her safety, she eagerly set out to make cautious stay-at-homes and couch potatoes look like a load of old wimps – and she succeeded.

In a county known as a Mecca for adventurers at all levels of competence and expertise, this young woman is the finest branding we could ask for.

She’s done a great job for Sport Relief; has shown women can and will do whatever any man will boast he could... if he had time. And she is a beacon of that Cumbrian spirit which will shrink from no challenge.

And she did it all without her hairdryer – which is surely above and beyond the call. What a wonderful example. It was high time our spirit of adventure saw a healthy return. Good on yer, girl. You gave us it back.

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