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Northwest Minnesota Foundation 2010 Regional Summit: Bancroft discusses leadership

Polar explorer Ann Bancroft described aspects of leadership necessary for accomplishing goal both on the ice and in life during the Northwest Minnesota Foundation 2010 Regional Summit Tuesday. Pioneer Photo/Monte Draper

Preparation, creativity, perseverance - these are some of the qualities team members must use in big endeavors, such as crossing the continent of Antarctica on skis.

These are also characteristics of successful leaders use to accomplish other major goals. And polar explorer Ann Bancroft of Minnesota wants to use her expeditions to teach children these lessons, along with technical and scientific curricula.

"Most of what transpires on the ice transpires in the world," Bancroft said during a presentation Tuesday at the Northwest Minnesota Foundation 2010 Regional Summit: Leadership GPS Pathways for Great Leaders.

Bancroft presented a slide show and "some of my thoughts from the top and bottom of the world."

She told stories of her many expeditions to places she dreamed of visiting when she was a child.

In 1986, she was an elementary school teacher who had the opportunity as the lone woman to join a National Geographic expedition of seven men, assisted by 49 male dogs, on a trip from Canada to the North Pole.

"It constantly makes you think in creative ways to solve problems," she said of her experiences trekking across the frozen Arctic Ocean.

They reached the North Pole on May 1, 1986, after 57 days, and read a statement acknowledging all the people behind the trip that made their success possible.

"You never do any feat by yourself," she said.

In 1992, she led an team of women across Greenland as a training operation for a 1993 attempted crossing of Antarctica. With that goal, Bancroft said she encountered a gender barrier; backers didn't believe in the women's ability and failed to fully finance the project, she said. When they reached the South Pole, she had to make the leadership decision on Jan. 14, 1993, to call the continental crossing off and depart with the dream unfulfilled.

"Sometimes it takes a long time to get to your dreams," she said, another lesson she offers children.

Then she met Liv Arnesen, a Norwegian woman who also loved meeting the challenges of polar spaces.

In the fall of 2000, they set out from Cape Town, South Africa, to try again to cross Antarctica. They were three weeks late into the season because polar storms kept planes from flying. They finally landed and began their trek on skis and with sail kites pulling sleds that weighed twice as much as they did.

They also set strict rules for each other, to stick close together, ski single file and turn back if they didn't reach the South Pole by a specific date.

"The day we arrived at the Pole was the day we said was our drop-dead date," Bancroft said.

When they bested their halfway point, they celebrated with a toast - Arnesen with a film canister of Norwegian aquavit and Bancroft with a shot of Scotch.

She offered another life lesson. Because the final goal is so enormous, it's important to celebrate the smaller goals along the way.

They felt the exhilaration of closing in on success when they skied down the glacier named for the great leader and polar explorer Ernest Shackleton and saw the tips of the coastal mountains. They accomplished the longest ski trip made by women - 97 days from coast to coast - and remained friends.

Bancroft and Arnesen have made subsequent expeditions together in 2005 and 2007, and now, they are planning to enlarge their two-women team. The latest project is to go back to Antarctica in 2011 with a team of "six women from six continents on the seventh continent."

The women will range in age from a 24-year-old to Arnesen, who will be 58, and Bancroft at 55.