Tag Archives: mental health

Skiing in Scotland! (Week 4)

(Week ending 14th Feb 2020)

It’s been a busy week for the team with the main focus being on their weekend away in Scotland learning how to Nordic Ski. It was also the first time that the team had “lived” together. Which was something they were really looking forward to, with busy lives and work schedules it is hard to find time out to do these events together. They all found the time away a great bonding session, given that they had only ever met once before as a team it was a real step forward in cementing the AFA family. Beci has taken the role as team chef making sure the team were fed and watered and Rebecca was bin lady and furniture mover extraordinaire!

Team LAFA all stayed together in preparation for a 4am drive to Heathrow, ouch! They got there in great time and were slightly nervous that they hadn’t heard from the WAFAs but they knew they were staying local to the airport and were sure they were all safe and sound. Hopefully they got an extra hour in bed or maybe they were helping Alison fit everything in to her suitcase?! The full AFA team reunited at gate 5 ready for the flight. Nakita had the new team jackets with their logo ready and George had gilets from Mountain equipment ready too. They all looked very professional and felt like they were part of a proper team.

Once in Scotland their first trip was to Tesco to fill 2 trolley’s up with all the essentials they needed for the long weekend before heading to their beautiful cottage; no wi-fi and slightly off grid which certainly helped them all focus on the days ahead.

The skiing was full on and although the team were up to the physical challenge they certainly all felt it mentally as it took such concentration. It has helped them look at, amend and tweak their training plans to ensure they are ready for the longer skis ahead. Over all the weather was pretty kind to them with only a bit of rain and some high winds. For the Fire Angels, day one was all about learning the basics; getting moving and staying up right, which is pretty key in all of this! They were moving up and down a 25 metre track initially and then going around a track before hitting a ski slope in the afternoon. Alison had a big fall which bruised not only her ego but her bottom! She had previously expressed her concern at not being able to keep up with the team but the instructors were really lovely and showed a lot of patience. It was a mixed ability group of 16 people it was great to support each other on what ended up being a more physically and mentally challenging course than they all imagined.

Day two was all about working on the technique, to try and glide better and use the poles correctly. Alison was a bit sore from the fall the day before so sat it out with Nikki, who you might remember couldn’t really take part due to her ‘shark bite’. The guys really felt like the Sunday consolidated everything they had learnt and that they had made huge improvements from the day before. It has also made them realise what a monumental task they have ahead of them over the coming years; they are already putting the time and effort in ten fold and now they know they’ve just got to keep going.

Also you might recall that Beci had to deal with the guilt of leaving her family for the weekend, especially as it was her daughter’s birthday on the Sunday. She managed to hold it all together, that was, until she saw a rainbow. Her daughter is a rainbow baby and owns a lot of rainbow clothes which triggered the guilt and emotion all over again and she ended up crying on all the girls. As always they were a great support to each other and really helped Beci through the day and as a team they all went for a lovely walk in the forestry together. Baring in mind that this was the most amount of time they had all spent together it really was an ideal 4 days for them to get to know more about individual personalities and learnt a lot about each other.

I am sure we can all remember the horrific weather and storm Ciara that weekend; well with a delayed flight it meant the team had a very late finish. However they put the delay time to good use and did some planning and task assignments for the next few weeks as a team.

Monday was tyre pulling day with the Times 2 magazine which rounded off a busy weekend for the team. They all got to drag the tyres on Merthyr Mawr sand dunes, remember those tyres, the ones that George managed to rescue? The interview and the photoshoot was great fun and the article will be out soon so keep an eye out! Although it all went really well it was a huge eye opener for the team. It is going to be hard, really hard, probably harder than they ever imagined; but they are going to keep pushing and training and getting stronger. As George says, it is better to find it hard now and be more attuned to it when they finally get out to the Antarctic!

It is hard to understand the time, effort and dedication the 6 firefighters are putting in. It just proves that the reasons they want to do this; to raise awareness of mental health, to push stereotypical boundaries and to show every girl and woman that they can be whoever they want to be and do what ever they want to do are deeply embedded into who they are as people. This comes from the heart and to remind people we are always stronger together. For example, for Beci the weekend meant 3am bedtime on the Sunday after the delayed flight before getting up for 6am for the school run followed by a full day at Merthyr Mawr sand dunes dragging tyres and then straight onto a nightshift…! Needless to say on Wednesday night she went to bed at 7.30pm! Dedication, resilience and stamina.

I just had to share this; the picture to the left is fantastic, remember that Beci left her walking boots in the car in Wales…so Nakita, as founder of the AFA, was there to help out whenever she needed a ‘lift’ in more ways than one. Never leave anyone behind.

There are many more exciting projects on the horizon which means much more work for the team. However they will keep their end goal in sight to help with the extra pressure, and keep striving for greatness.

Overall this was a brilliant weekend for the team, and a huge thank you to the Huntly Nordic and Outdoor Centre. Yes they had ups and downs and yes it made them realise how steep the road ahead is; but Rebecca’s knee survived the weekend, Nikki’s ‘shark bite’ is intact even though she found the weekend hard, she is not used to sitting it out and being physically at the ‘back of the pack’ and last but not least, all the guys have improved on their skiing. Not bad for a long weekend, delayed flights and no wi-fi!

This really is ordinary women doing extraordinary things!

Written by Elissa

So it begins…! (Week 1)

(Week ending 24th Jan 2020)

As well as holding down hugely inspiring day jobs, our Fire Angels are in constant training for their challenge, meeting potential sponsors and drumming up support everywhere they go.

This is the first of many blogs where we get an insight into their week; we find out what they’ve been getting up to, dealing with the ups and downs of life, holding down a day (and night) job, whilst pushing forward with their plans.

Time is already flying by and there are never enough hours in the day for this team. Anything that can help with organisation and push time efficiency is a big hit; so after hearing about the app ‘Trello’ Nikki decided to check it out to see if it could help the team with their multiple to-do lists; turns out it’s a total game changer! Nikki has set up a group for the team and it’s all systems go! (Check the app out, pictured, for all your organisational needs). Along side this Nikki has been pushing forward with emails of every kind; sponsorship requests, TV networking, hoody designs…the list is endless!

Along side this Team LAFA filmed a few pieces for LFB (London Fire Brigade) this week, one for LFB’s #LoveLondon in LittleVenice and the other was focusing on the expedition itself and the team. Understanding what strengths and experience each individual brings and how they are able to support each other through the gruelling training regimes and drive towards their ultimate goal together.

Aside from the training and the day jobs you have to remember that these firefighters still have every day life to deal with too. Everything from being a wife, grandmother, aunt, partner, sister and so on. One high for Rebecca this week was that her brother in law and his wife welcomed a beautiful baby girl, mother and baby are doing well and huge congratulations to the family. This happy moment comes at a time that has been hugely difficult for Rebecca and her family. She has only just returned to work this week after 5 weeks off; her step Dad sadly passed away suddenly in December so she has been back with her family in Wales supporting her mum. Anyone who has ever lost a parent, step-parent or guardian knows just how emotionally draining it can be, how it can sometimes be hard to get back into any sort of regular routine once you’re ready. Being back with her watch this week she has had great support and friendship from the brigade which has made the transition back to work much easier for her.

It seems that LAFA have had a hard and thought provoking week; Nakita heard that a close friend from her past had died this week. Having lost contact over the years it hit home how important friendships are in life and how sometimes life seems to get in the way. We all have people we’ve lost touch with, the ones we don’t always make the time or effort to keep in touch with, right?

It is so important to remember the benefit of taking time out when you hit any sort of low in life and find a way to deal with your feelings and your mind. Sometimes we feel that we can just carry on and that it hasn’t had any impact on us but that usually isn’t the case. There will always be repercussions when something out of the ordinary happens, when something out of the blue knocks you sideways. Remember, it’s ok not to be ok. Talk to people, tell people how you are feeling.

Team WAFA met with Andy McCann this week from DNA Definitive‘. Andy was Beci’s PE teacher when she was at school teaching her Tang Soo Do (karate based Korean martial arts) and has always been one of her heroes and a huge inspiration to her. ‘DNA definitive’ is about ‘powering performance’ and ‘unlocking human potential’.

Andy offered nutrition advice, assistance with training programmes and information on psychological support; all of which will be hugely beneficial to the team over the years. For Beci, being able to reconnect with Andy and work together on a project has been amazing, who wouldn’t want to work with one of their heroes?!

As you’ve read previously, a huge driving force behind this expedition is all around inspiring the next generation; the team know that one of the best ways to do that is to take the time to visit schools and talk to children and teenagers face to face about their expedition and how mental health is something we shouldn’t be afraid to talk about. Together George, Beci and Alison have put together a number of presentations to deliver to schools in the coming weeks and months. As part of the talks the team have had some special bears created by ‘Elisabeth Sews’ to take with them, adorned with the AFA logo they will certainly help the team create memories. (Check Elisabeth out on Instagram http://www.instagram.com/elisabethsews).

George has also been in discussions with ‘Mountain Equipment’ and ‘Nordiclife’ to talk about their kit options and budgets and they even have their very first piece of kit specific equipment; Cross Country Skiing poles. It’s all getting very real now and the team can’t wait to get stuck in. With their team vests arriving ready for their logo to be added make sure you keep a look out for the team; take a look at the logo, top of the page, and keep an eye out!

AFA Team (Antarctic Fire Angels)
Collectively the AFA’s had multiple meetings this week with potential sponsors and charities they are supporting. Team WAFA drove all the way down from Wales for these and LAFA had just come off their last night shift, talk about dedication to the cause! Pictured here are some of the team at a meeting with Fawcett Society. They are the UK’s leading charity campaigning for gender equality and women’s right’s.

They do amazing work and tackle everything from smashing stereotypes, equal pay and power and workplace sexual harassment. These messages of female empowerment and support speak volumes to the team and this is why they are one of the charities they will be supporting from donations made. The team had time to talk and discuss experiences and situations they have been in, both at work and in their personal lives with particular focus on being female firefighters.

An official sponsor of the AFA’s is ‘Explorers Coffee‘ they are ‘an independent purveyor of coffees, coffee products and explorer adventure accessories’. It is owned and operated by Neil Hallsworth who is a military spouse and service veteran. The team were blown away at the meeting where they had time to talk to a Naval officer about to be medically discharged who was inspired and wanted to support the team. If you need some rocket fuel and love coffee check them out!

In fact it seems that lots of people want to support and get involved in some way; this week they also met Natalie Hewitt; a self-shooting documentary director whose work has been nominated for a Grierson award as well as two nominations for ‘Best Documentary’ at the broadcast awards. Sharing stories from her own Antarctic experiences she was a fantastic and inspiring woman who can’t wait to get involved with the team. And as if that wasn’t enough some of the team also met up with ‘The Good Wash Company, a company making luxury wash products made in Wales from the finest natural ingredients. They are on a mission to change the world ‘one wash at a time’ with their profits helping improve the lives of animals and people; sounds pretty impressive to us!

Wow…I don’t know about you but I’m exhausted just reading this! To some this might not sound like much to do in a week, but add in the day job, the constant daily training and organisation of upcoming events and all this adds up to a packed week! This is how it’s going to be for the next few years, constant battles to find enough time to do everything; they will all have super long days, feel tired and it is already starting to take it’s toll on the team.

We are sharing this with you because we want you to see every side of this challenge, not just the interviews and photos, not just the positives but the hard hitting reality that this is a massive undertaking for the team. They are gaining momentum with more and more requests and offers for help rolling in. This is getting bigger and better week by week and it’s all down to the constant effort LAFA and WAFA are putting in.

Remember, you can do anything you set your mind to!

Written by Elissa.

Meet Team WAFA.

For our final introduction post we meet our 3 firefighters who make up Team WAFA (Wales Antarctic Fire Angels) led by Co-founder of the Antarctic Fire Angels, Georgina Gilbert;

Georgina Gilbert

Georgina has been a firefighter for 20 years and currently serves with South Wales Fire and Rescue service. She is an ambassador for gender equality and has an ambition to see more women striving to do whatever job they want to do in life; always ensuring she is visible as a role model for young women wanting to embark on a career that doesn’t fit society’s stereotypes.

Everyone who knows her has been asking why she wants to do this challenge, why Antarctica? Her response is simple “we work in extreme environments, my job is not normal; so to highlight the need for greater mental health awareness and smashing gender stereotyping, what better than to push ourselves to the extreme to prove our point.” She wants the expedition to be an entirely honest fly on the wall log of their mental health throughout and you’ll be able to get all of those updates right here.

Georgina loves competing at high level and qualified to represent Great Britain’s Triathlon Team; she enjoys scaling mountains such as Elbrus and Kilimanjaro and is also head spokesperson for the ‘HeForShe’ campaign working towards gender equality for all. She has also recently been nominated for ‘Most Influential LGBT and individual in the Fire Service’ by Excellence in Fire and Emergency.

Her role model growing up was Wonder Woman and she never leaves the house without a Lego miniature in her pocket! It’s safe to say she has a powerful voice that has already helped support so many people and with even more to come from this future expedition.

Alison Kibblewhite

Alison is from Cardiff and went in to the banking industry when she left school; she always knew she wanted to do something a little bit more exciting and when her brother came home with an application form to be a firefighter she applied to!

In January 1995 she joined the South Glamorgan Fire Service and was the first full time female firefighter. Since then she has risen from rank of Firefighter to Area Commander, Head of Operations for South Wales Fire and Rescue Service.

Since the age of 11 she has always been keen on fitness and has run all distances from 100 metres to marathons. She hopes to complete her first ultra-marathon in 2020 as well as training for the Fire Angels expedition.

She is married and has a daughter, stepdaughter and stepson who is following in her footsteps. She is an extremely proud grandmother and of her seven grandchildren she is hopeful that one will join the next generation of firefighters. Alison is taking on this challenge to inspire her family to show that you can achieve anything that you dream of whilst testing her own personal, mental and physical boundaries.

Her claim to fame is a brief appearance on Strictly Come Dancing in 2018 with Green Watch Cardiff Central and is currently taking ballroom dance lessons with her husband in case she ever gets the chance to take part for real…!

Beci Newton

Beci became a firefighter in 2007 with South Wales Fire and Rescue and is currently Watch Manager in Caerphilly; however the path to her current position wasn’t easy.

She suffered Adverse Childhood Experiences (ACE’s) in a troubled childhood and teenage years that left her with Complex Post Traumatic Stress Disorder (CPTSD) which she deals with until this day. As a teenager she found and joined the Young Firefighters (Fire Cadets) where she found the support and help to get through her traumatic experiences.

She lives with her husband, son and daughter and with their Boarder Collie who have all sadly suffered due to her CPTSD; but with love, support and outstanding mental health care they are moving forwards to ensure they are living a happy and healthy life together. She can’t stress enough how grateful she is for her ‘long suffering’ husband.

As well as being a full time working mother of two, she is a local community councillor and a committee member of Caerphilly RFC. If and when she has spare time she likes to train with Caerphilly Triers, watch rugby and listen to music.

Beci was invited to be part of the AFA challenge and instantly fell in love with the idea. The prospect of being an even bigger role model to her children and inspiring them to be more and do more meant she had to say yes! This will undoubtedly be a huge personal challenge for her and will help to raise awareness of mental health and empower people along the way. Her 3 main goals for the expedition are; don’t die, don’t lose a body part and attempt to get a selfie with a penguin…I think the rest of the team might just strive for those too!

Now the introductions are done we will start to follow our 6 firefighters week by week, catching up with all the events and training they are doing, how they are feeling about the expedition and any exciting news they have to share.

Don’t forget the AFA are seeking sponsorship to support with training, equipment, nutrition, technology and specialist technical support. But more importantly to help raise funds for their nominated charities. If you want to give, as much or as little as you can, please click on this link; https://www.gofundme.com/f/antarctic-fire-angels

Written by Elissa.

Meet Team LAFA.

Welcome back! As promised in this post we find out all about the first 3 firefighters who form one half of our dynamic team; Antarctic Fire Angels. First up, team LAFA (London Antarctic Fire Angels) led by Nakita Ross;

Nakita Ross

Nakita is the Founder of Antarctic Fire Angels and Team Leader for LAFA. She is 33 years old and Leading Firefighter at Technical Rescue Station in Battersea.

She spent her teenage years as an Air Cadet until she joined the London Fire Brigade at the age of 20. Since then she has gone on to take leading roles at two major joint agency national disaster exercises and has become London’s first female Urban Search and Rescue instructor.

As mentioned in the first blog, she delivers practical sessions at the annual Women in the Fire Service National Training Event, which is where she first met Georgina, team leader of WAFA. (All will be revealed in the next post…!).

In February 2019 Nakita joined Battersea Red Watch and was given her spirit animal of an artic fox, ironic really as this was long before she knew just how accurate that would be! Outside of the brigade she competes in Brazilian Jujitsu which focuses her drive to win, determination and flare. She isn’t one to shy away from a challenge and is likely to take on anyone bigger than her in a wrestling match, and win!

Over her 13 year career Nakita has attended many challenging incidents, none more so than the disaster of the Croydon tram crash and the horrendous high rise fire at Grenfell Tower.

The expedition is something Nakita feels passionately about and it is hugely important to her. She wants to show women that they can achieve any challenge they want to in life including overcoming PTSD. “I think it’s important to recognise there is a stigma attached to mental health in society and it desperately needs to be tackled. I’m also hoping to show full disclosure of the problems we will face out on the ice and that a cool head can make all the difference when faced with adversity”.

Nikki Upton

Nikki knew from the moment she met a female firefighter at a London Brigade open day that this was the job she wanted to do and in 2009 she did just that!

She is also a qualified Level 3 personal trainer and uses this to help people recognise their true potential. Nikki is a great believer that exercise is a huge benefit and attributes her own mental health to a positive attitude towards nutrition and activity as well as maintaining a good life balance.

Based in Chelsea Nikki was at the Grenfell Tower fire in June 2017 within 30 minutes of the blaze starting. She is extremely proud of the work her and her colleagues did that night.

Along with her day job and her P.T she loves to inspire women to push themselves and reach their goals. She recently travelled to Thailand to Tajikistan to teach rope rescue to women wanting to become the first female rescue responders. Nikki was so inspired and in awe of their determination she hopes to return to continue and help with the steps being taken by their Government towards a more equal society.

Nikki has a drive to complete and win challenges, whether that involves a 10k swim, 75 mile bike ride or a boxing fight in front of 1200 people! This next expedition will be her biggest challenge to date and what a way to show women what you can achieve when you put your mind to it. Even if one woman is inspired by this journey Nikki is happy to go 3 months without twiglets…!

Rebecca Rowe

Rebecca has an impressive sporting history; having played in the Rugby World Cup and Six Nations for Wales; rowed for Great Britain at World and European Championships winning a bronze medal and swimming the English Channel as part of a female relay team setting a new British record at the time!

In November 2017 her sporting career was cut short due to a multiple ligament rupture in her knee after playing a game for Harlequins.

She was wheelchair bound for months, battled depression, society identity and had to come to terms with not achieving her childhood dream to become an Olympian.

At the age of 37 she became a firefighter, fulfilling a lifelong ambition after leaving her previous job as a PE teacher. Changing her career so late in life was a huge risk but her guts and determination to persevere means it has been the best decision she ever could have made.

Her mini sausage dog, George, will be a key part of her support team and motivational coach! Rebecca is super excited about getting stuck into this challenge and is passionate about being an example for other women and girls who want to push boundaries and challenge themselves in life.

Next up; an introduction to team WAFA (Wales Antarctic Fire Angels) led by Georgina Gilbert, co-founder of the Antarctic Fire Angels!

Written by Elissa.

Antarctic Fire Angels; Who are they?

Hi and welcome to the Antarctic Fire Angels Blog!

If you want to find out more about these inspirational women you are in the right place! Together they are a force to be reckoned with; inspiring the next generation, pushing all out girl power to the limits, squashing stereotypes and tackling mental health head on!

The Antarctic Fire Angels are six firefighters from London Fire Brigade and South Wales Fire and Rescue Service; Founder of Antarctic Fire Angels and Team Leader Nakita Ross, Co-founder Georgina Gilbert, Nikki Upton, Alison Kibblewhite, Rebecca Rowe and Beci Newton. Together they have over 100 years’ experience and service in the fire brigade and have decided to take on the mammoth and gruelling challenge of being the first all-female emergency service team to cross the Antarctic!

In 2023 they are planning to take a route never done before by an all-female team which will cover 1900km from Berkner Island to the Ross Ice Shelf. That means they will be covering around 27km every single day in temperatures as low as -50 and all in around 70 days! It will be a huge undertaking where their nerves of steel, grit and determination will be pushed to the max.

This blog will introduce you to the team and their own reasons for being part of this dynamic and empowering group taking on this challenge together.

It all started at a WFS (Women in the Fire Service UK) event in 2019. The previous year Nakita gave an Urban Search and Rescue workshop which Georgina had signed up to; this is where the two met and instantly became friends. Fast forward to 2019 and the keynote speaker was Sophie Montague, adventurer and record holder for Ice Maiden who was also part of the first female team to ski across the Antarctic continent. Both in attendance it ignited a fire within Nakita and Georgina who were so inspired that they decided to start planning their own Antarctic challenge!

With huge support from family and friends, along with all firefighters in their brigades they start their training this year. They will take on a huge variety of different events and expeditions to ensure they are as ready as they can be when it comes to the real thing whilst still keeping up with their day jobs! Training consists of a Cross Country skiing course, mountain navigation, crevasse rescue, polar expedition training and entering events as a team like the Blue Light Stair Run in May this year.

We all have our own struggles in life, our own stories to share. We all have demons that push us to our limits, push us to take on challenges and conquer things that have never been done before. These six inspirational firefighters are no different; they all have their own moving and empowering stories to share, how they are dealing with mental health and how some have overcome huge life events to be where they are today. Over the coming months we will delve into those journeys so far and get an insight in to how they are using this challenge to support each other and more importantly spread the word. This is about women empowering women in a positive way whilst raising awareness of mental health and pushing towards a change in boundaries set by society.

The expedition will be funded by donations to total £500,000, but the team also want to raise money for the charities they are supporting along the way;
The Fire Fighters Charity – https://www.firefighterscharity.org.uk/
The Fawcett Society – https://www.fawcettsociety.org.uk/
Harlequins Foundation – https://www.harlequins.foundation/

If you feel inspired by what this team plan to do and why they plan to do it and want to support them then please check out the website below;

Don’t forget to check back for our weekly updates with all the news and events our Fire Angels are taking on over the coming months and years to get themselves ready for their big adventure! Meet the team and learn more about the charities they want to raise money for and the companies who are sponsoring them.

This adventure will surely go down in history so jump on board and come for the ride as we follow every step with this epic team!

Next up; an introduction to the team starting with the 3 firefighters from London led by Team Leader and founder of the Antarctic Fire Angels, Nakita Ross.

Written by Elissa.