Professional Model to Endurance Athlete: A Q&A with Katie Jane L’Herpiniere
Katie-Jane L'Herpiniere proves that ordinary people can do extraordinary things with her motto 'we just need to be bold enough to begin.'
From her life-changing trek through rural China to her record-breaking adventure across the Patagonian Ice Cap, Katie sat down with us to share her journey from model to endurance athlete, adventurer and entrepreneur.
Katie has an incredible story which demonstrates how we can change and challenge ourselves to discover our hidden reserves of strength, and use the potential we have to overcome our fears.
Can you tell us a little bit about your story and how you moved from being a professional model to becoming an endurance athlete?
I built a successful career as a commercial model working on fashion shows for household names such as Marks and Spencer’s, TIGI and Alexander McQueen photo shoots and a number of Film and TV projects, including having body doubled for Cameron Diaz. Then I met a man named Tarka.
We met through family friends at a party and were quick to find we had little in common. Tarka was less than impressed with my manicured nails and makeup, likewise, I did not see Tarka as the ‘all-action hero’ that his accolades suggested, more a really ‘odd’ Frenchman who seemed to find enjoyment in throwing himself into frozen lakes!
We met again 6 months later and very quickly our misguided impressions of each other were corrected and our friendship flourished. So much so, that by the fourth day he asked me to join him on his next North Pole expedition attempt!! Not your average chat-up line! “Absolutely no way,” was my immediate reply.
Over the next few months, Tarka convinced me somehow that I was capable of far more than I knew, and so I agreed, but only if we could do something “easier” first. On my list of places I wanted to see in the world was the Great Wall of China, so I suggested that – although I only had a couple of weeks walking and taking some pictures in mind.
Tarka, however, ran with the idea. He found out that no one had ever walked the full length of it and before I knew it, we were busily planning our expedition to become the first people in the world to work the entire 4500km length of the Great Wall of China from its most westerly to most easterly point, continually and unsupported. The rest, as they say, is history.
Your story proves that ordinary people can do extraordinary things. How do you use your stories and experiences to encourage others to chase their dreams and wildest adventures?
I like to think that on meeting me and hearing my story, people quickly see I am not your ’typical adventurer’. I’m not very brave nor an adrenaline junkie or a daredevil, I’m just a normal girl, who loves pretty dresses and laying on the sofa watching Strictly with a mug of tea and a packet of RichTea biscuits!
I therefore believe I am the epitome of ‘if I can do it, you can do it’. It just takes a little self-belief and hard work, but mostly it’s about being bold enough to begin.
The Great Walk of China, where faced blizzards, temperatures of -35C, frost bite, starvation, exhaustion and dehydration, must have pushed you to your limits. How did you stay motivated in the most toughest of times?
China was my first trip, no one believed I could achieve it, not even my family and closest of friends. I therefore used this to stay motivated - to prove the doubters wrong.
The journey along the Great Wall of China changed my life. On completion I had a newfound understanding of what the human body was mentally and physically capable of and that I was capable of even more - that we are all capable of more.
I no-longer needed to be motivated by proving others wrong. I now understood that the feeling of accomplishment, achievement or success is directly proportional to the effort, commitment and hard work put into achieving it.
You hold the world record for the longest ever female crossing of the southern Patagonian Ice cap. Was this the challenge that pushed your endurance limits the most?
Yes, on a physical level. It was unbelievably tough; carrying a 50kg pack where my legs would quite literally tremble with every step, nearly losing my life to Carbon Monoxide poisoning, having a full seizure before losing consciousness, seeing the sky just twice in thirty days due to such horrific weather, battling avalanches, crevasses, snow blindness… But finally, when our tent was destroyed in a massive storm, we both truly believed we would die that night.
On the Patagonian Icecap there is no rescue available, you can’t just give up and say “I’ve had enough”. We were left with a new goal, ‘surviving’! We had to keep moving forward, we had to overcome the obstacles that lay in front of us, we had to adapt. Quite literally our lives depended on it.
In contrast, more recently, cycling the 5,500km original route of the 1911 Tour de France unsupported might have been my biggest mental battle to date. I set myself the monumental task of riding this route not in the 30 days (as they rode the race back then) but in just 23 days! Why? Professional cyclists take 23 days to ride today’s current Tour (although that is 2000km shorter). So it was always going to be a huge challenge!
However, it was falling asleep while riding the 350-470km long stages that caused real difficulty. Near the end, I became terrified to get on my bike and peddle through the night. This combined with the fact I was surrounded by ‘easy ways out’... restaurants, hotels and train stations around every corner meant it took every bit of mental resolve I had to keep going and make it to the finish. I learnt so much about resilience, motivation and determination - and I got to Paris in 23 days!
If there was one message that your audience could take away from your speech, what would it be?
Don't fear change and challenge. An adventure - whether that’s in business, sport, travel or love - is an experience filled with risk and reward, obstacles and surprising results.
These days I wonder if we focus a little too much on making things more comfortable, convenient and easier but in my experience, struggle can be good, it builds your sense of self, your character, your self-belief. So, dare to take a leap into Theadore Roservelt’s famous ‘arena’!
If we can be more comfortable with being uncomfortable, we are better prepared to handle whatever situation comes along in work and life.
What's next for you?
I am currently in the process of finishing my International Mountain Leader qualification, launching two new business, and I am planning an unsupported traverse by bike of the Caucasus Mountains from the Black Sea to the Caspian Sea, and a rarely attempted North South ski traverse of Iceland through winter.
For further information call us on +44 (0)20 7607 7070 or email firstname.lastname@example.org.
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