By Kinjal Dagli Shah, Womens Feature Service
It’s that time of year when most Canadians head for warmer destinations. Ontario-born Meagan Mcgrath too is travelling south, but not before braving the climate in Antarctica, the coldest and windiest continent on Earth. An aerospace engineer by profession, Mcgrath, 32, is on a 60-day expedition in which she will journey over 1,130 kilometres on foot from the coast of Antarctica to the South Pole. She is also single-handedly dragging 285 lbs of food, fuel and equipment in a sled during that trek.
For the average josephine, Mcgrath’s life of adventure is a dream. But Mcgrath made it a reality in 2002 when she spent a week climbing the Kilimanjaro in Africa, one of the Seven Summits. Since then, she has successfully climbed many peaks throughout the world and achieved her goal of climbing each of the Seven Summits. “I’ve always been adventurous. Since I was a little girl, I was running around the streets and playing with my friends. We were very active kids growing up. Even on days that I did want to sit inside, my parents would kick us out of the house,” recalls Mcgrath.
For an achiever of her calibre, Mcgrath is as light-hearted as she is modest. At 30, she became the first Canadian woman to climb the Carstenz Pyramid version of the Seven Summits. “The purpose of these expeditions is to have fun and fill my life with something that is meaningful to me. It brings me so much joy to challenge myself and prepare for the expeditions. Not only do I have to do the expedition work, but I also have a busy day job, and so I’m always trying to fit everything in,” she says.
Mcgrath’s life is not all adventure. As an aerospace engineer, she works with the Canadian Air Force and has been granted leave without pay for an entire year so that she could pursue her current expedition to the South Pole. “I do have a job that requires me to sit at a desk every day. And that’s not very adventurous. The fun thing about pursuing adventures in my vacation time is that when I come back to my desk job, I can still feel the tensing of my muscles as I cross a ladder over a deep, dark crevasse; I can still see the sunrise from the top of Mount Everest; and I can still feel the heat and sand of the Sahara on my skin. Knowing that the world is so big and has so many adventures yet to be experienced makes ‘normal’ life bearable,” she reveals.
And the possibilities of the future are exactly what keep her going. “I’m not sure what lies ahead. I’m going to take it one adventure at a time for the next while! After the South Pole, I head to the Himalayas – Nepal, Pakistan and Tibet (China) – for climbing expeditions. It will be busy and challenging – requiring much of my focus for the foreseeable future. Only upon my safe return to Canada and my ‘regular’ life will I be able to plan the next adventure,” she says.
Mcgrath is conscious of the fact that, as a woman, there are many social expectations from her. “I know that we are expected to do certain things in life like get married, make babies and get a job. I have a great job and although I haven’t filled the role of wife and mother yet, maybe one day I will. But right now, I choose to live the life of my dreams,” she says. She concedes that people may have discriminated against her because she is a woman but adds, “I’m too busy and motivated to succumb to the negative thoughts of others. Why should I care if someone doesn’t like me for what I do? I love my life – it is a grand adventure.”
She has a message for other women with similar dreams, “I appreciate that not all women are provided the opportunity to live the life of their dreams. I am fortunate that I have found a way to fulfil mine. I hope that the women who do have dreams keep them, and don’t ever let them go – they may come true, in time. It takes work and, with age, the dream might have to be modified, but focus on it, work toward it, and make it happen. No one else will make it come true for you.”
While Mcgrath hasn’t had a particular role model, she does give credit where it’s due, “I kind of follow my own beat. But I would be remiss if I didn’t acknowledge Christine Boskoff as someone who made me think about high-altitude climbing in a focused way. She was the owner of Mountain Madness, and I admired her guts to leave her job as an aerospace engineer and become a climber – perhaps one day I’ll do the same.”
For Mcgraths of the world, may the mountain madness always prevail.