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Girls Need More Grit to Thrive and Succeed

29/03/2016 16:35 | Updated 31 March 2016

all women everywhere

I was thrown out of PE at school. I hated running (I could not run 5km without getting out of breath by my thirties), was terrified of cycling and loathed endurance sports. Now aged 42, I am on course to complete the Explorers' Grand Slam within 8 months and become the fastest woman in the world to do it.

The ultimate adventure challenge involves climbing the world's highest peaks on each of the seven continents as well as trekking to the geographic North and South poles. In April, I will enter the most ambitious stage of my journey as I aim to scale Everest and trek to the North Pole in just six weeks.

By the end of my journey, I will have been pushed to the edge of my physical endurance and mental resilience. I will have spent over a 100 days in a tent and spent three weeks trekking on skis to the North and South Poles in -40C weather. I will have exposed myself to the "death zone" - the high altitude above 8,000m where there is not enough oxygen for humans to breathe.

As a young woman, it would have been unthinkable to imagine that I would one day climb Everest - far less complete the Explorers' Grand Slam last degree challenge in under eight months. Only half a dozen women have ever achieved this feat - and only one has done so in under a year.

My passion for mountaineering was ignited when a friend invited me to join her on a climb during a trip to France while I was on maternity leave. It was love at first site - a sport that was as much mental as physical.

For someone who had spent her life behind a desk as an investment fund manager, climbing helped me detox from my day-to-day. I started out extremely unsure of my abilities, but was then given great advice by someone who trained women athletes: focus on intermediate objectives, not the big prize.

Now I have an 8-year-old daughter (and 6-year-old son), I realise just how important it is to lay those little bricks of grit and a resolve to approach risks and challenges at a young age - particularly in girls.

I don't advocate harsh parenting. However, I do not believe that small children know best what is good for them. It is important to listen and empathise. Yet it is equally important to give our children the qualities and life skills they need to thrive.

According to the US Journal of Pediatric Psychology, parents are four times more likely to tell girls to 'be more careful' than boys. Here in the UK we face a particular crisis of confidence in girls. Research has shown that teenage girls have far less self-belief than boys, and the gap here is greater than in most other countries. Without support, girls aged 13-15 fall significantly behind boys in their ability to successfully meet challenges.

It is time we stopped wrapping our daughters in cotton wool and started giving them the skills and confidence - the grit - to help them thrive and succeed.

I'm hoping that my record attempt can help to inspire girls in particular to get involved in hillwalking, mountaineering and climbing to boost their self-esteem. You don't need to be amazingly gifted to become really good at something, you just need to find your discipline, be passionate and put in an honest 10,000 hours of work. Being outdoors teaches kids to take on responsibility, be creative and problem solve.

It is also important to have great female role models. It is a sad fact that women explorers are judged differently. Society still assumes that a mother is a sole carer and provider for the young. An extraordinarily brave and supremely accomplished Alison Hargreaves comes to mind. She was the first woman to summit Everest without oxygen who then went on to use her acclimatisation to make an attempt on K2, the world's deadliest mountain.

Sadly, after summiting solo she fell on the descent. Critics had a field day calling her irresponsible and selfish, pointing out that she shouldn't have left her children than aged 4 and 6. Yet were the same questions publicly asked of Mallory or numerous other brave men who were fathers and who found their final rest on the Himalayan slopes?

The truth is Alison could not have lived any other way. She was an alpinist, an adventurer with ambitious goals. She was remarkable.

My husband and I have actively encouraged my daughter to grow up loving speed and adventure, relishing and experiencing the unknown and just going for it.

So let's encourage our girls to get themselves out into the elements - there are many walking, climbing, hiking groups out there. Encourage them to spend stupidly long days in surroundings that lift their spirits. Before long, they will be climbing their very own Everests.

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HuffPost UK is running a month-long project in March called All Women Everywhere, providing a platform to reflect the diverse mix of female experience and voices in Britain today. Through blogs, features and video, we'll be exploring the issues facing women specific to their age, ethnicity, social status, sexuality and gender identity. If you'd like to blog on our platform around these topics, email ukblogteam@huffingtonpost.com with a summary of who you are and what you'd like to blog about

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