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How Preet Chandi smashed the glass ceiling "into a million pieces" with her trailblazing trek to the South Pole

"Polar Preet" inspires with Antarctic trek
Preet Chandi becomes first woman of color to trek solo to South Pole 04:08

London — This is a story about a remarkable journey to one of Earth's most extreme places, and it all started with a simple Google search. A British woman named Preet Chandi recently skied, alone, to the South Pole, making history not by being the fastest to achieve the feat, but by being a trailblazer in another way.

CBS News correspondent Roxana Saberi met Chandi — or "Polar Preet," as she calls herself now — and found out why her story is inspiring people all over the world.

For Chandi, breaking the glass ceiling started with the ice under her feet. 

"I remember looking on Google and typing in 'polar explorer,' and I didn't see anybody that looked anything like me at all," she told Saberi.

Captain Preet Chandri. Preet Chandi/Instagram

At 32, Chandi set out to become the first woman of color to ski solo to the South Pole — dragging 200 pounds of supplies behind her the entire way.

"I want to encourage people to, you know, be proud of their skin color and proud of where they're from," she told CBS News. "It took me a really long time to be proud of that."

Growing up in an Indian Sikh community in England, Chandi says she raised eyebrows when she joined the Army Reserves at the age of 19. But she went on to become a Captain, a physical therapist, and an ultra-marathon runner.

Then, about two-and-a-half years ago, she started pulling around tires. Then she trekked across Greenland, and then Iceland. It was all training for the daunting challenge of Antarctica.

Her goal was to traverse 700 miles in just 45 days.

By Day 7, she told people following her journey online that she was feeling a "a little bit tired."

But even as temperatures plunged to around 60 degrees below zero and winds whipped up to 60 miles per hour, Polar Preet plowed on.

She fell over "a few times," and had a nasty cough from the time she set out, but it was Mother Nature who proved her most formidable challenger.

"The wind was relentless. It was so cold, and it was just like, 'Oh my God…' I'd go down and down and think, 'this is just so hard!'"

Chandi had never been so alone — armed only with a satellite phone, some audio books by Hollywood actors Will Smith and Mindy Kaling, and her thoughts.

"I'm absolutely exhausted, haven't slept for almost 48 hours," she told her online followers on Day 33.

A photo from Captain "Polar Preet" Chandi's Instagram account shows her during her solo ski trek to the South Pole. Preet Chandi/Instagram

But Captain Chandi refused to give up.

"I'd think to myself: 'Well, I've done that day now.' So, I just moved on to the next day."

And move on she did, from next day to next day, until she arrived at the South Pole — five days early. 

"I don't want to just like, you know, break the glass ceiling," she told Saberi. "I want to just smash it into a million pieces, and I really felt that."

Some young Brits who sent Chandi messages on Instagram left no doubt that she had achieved her goal.

"I look at her and think she's brown, I'm brown," one young Muslim girl said, while a boy said the adventurer's trek would "help inspire millions and millions of other South Asian people around the world."

She made her mom proud, too.

"As I was a child… there were certain things I wasn't allowed to do," Jas Basra told CBS News. "And I thought… obviously when I had my girl, I thought she'll do whatever she wants to do." 

And Polar Preet isn't done doing what she wants to do just yet. The next adventure?

"The full crossing of Antarctica," she told Saberi.  

She would be the first woman — of any color — to cross the continent alone. But for this polar pioneer, there are no limits.

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