Breaking Records at Age 75 My Quest to Ski Both Poles

Architects of Change

Barbara Hillary 200x2
Barbara Hillary, Public Motivational Speaker

An interview with Barbara Hillary



Need a little inspiration to help you achieve your goals? Look no further than Barbara Hillary. At age 75 she decided to ski to the North Pole -- setting the record as the first African American woman to do so. This January, she's planning to set another record by skiing to the South Pole. Find out what keeps her going -- and the advice she has for you.

What motivated you, at age 75 and as a lung cancer survivor, to ski to the North and South Poles?

When I retired I wanted to do something interesting. I looked around and saw that many retired people go on cruises, but I could think of nothing worse than being stuck on a ship with married people!

I saw an ad with a photograph of polar bears in Manitoba, Canada, and that sounded exciting. So I went up and photographed polar bears and fell in love with the beauty of the arctic. Then I learned “mushing” or dog sledding – then how to operate a snowmobile – and as a natural progression, I started to read about the North Pole. And lo and behold I discovered Matthew Henson, a black gentleman who went with Robert E. Peary on the first expedition to successfully reach the North Pole.  I discovered that no black woman had ever gone to the pole. So I made it my personal mission to go.

Did your family and friends support you?

It was basically a lonely venture.

If one elects to select or enjoy interests that are out of the mold, then one will find that so often one will walk alone and then interface with people of similar interests. If you don’t have the courage of what you want to do to make that transition, then you will not enjoy what you want to be, and then you will be with the sheep.

What advice would you give women who think they're too old or too afraid to try something new?

One – and this permeates what I do and what I believe – do not lose your sense of humor. A sense of humor will replace lines in your face faster than any overpriced cosmetic at the store!

Two, be able to look at the way you are right now. How much of it is a result of external mental-emotional programming and of internal programming? Women have been so programmed that they don’t even see it. For example, when I say internal programming – your grandmother walked around picking up clothes and functioning as a domestic maid, your mother did the same thing – we’re supposed to pick up behind people -- and you’re doing the same thing. Therefore you have to now look at your own self worth, your own giant – and there’s no short cut. To reach certain goals you have to invest the energy and the guts in yourself. And so often, success means, for a period of time, you have to stand alone. But the reward – what a great reward – “I like myself.”

What's next for you?

Right now before I take off for my next trip, I’m working with New York Senator Kirsten Gillbrand because she sets a strong leadership role in terms of women.

I plan to leave for the Near East in July. I will be taking school supplies and soccer balls. I don’t have either of these yet, they are on my wish list. I’m going into the interior to distribute these supplies to the children. I will be speaking in colleges – but I will go out to the rural areas. Most of these people see one type of American – military, government – I’m sure they’ve never sat down with an African American woman. I want to just sit there and talk to the children. I’d like to take a PowerPoint to show them what the North Pole looks like. I want to show them a different image. Because unfortunately we export negative images all over the world.

And then I’ll head to the South Pole in January 2011 – and that will be a second world record.

The only way I can possibly swing these two expeditions is with financial help, so please visit my website,

The point of my expeditions, my website and my speaking engagements is to inspire other people. I’ve made mistakes, and I’ve also learned from them -- and I want to share that knowledge with other people.

Barbara Hillary is a public motivational speaker; her website is

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  • Holy mackerel! Talk about inspirational. Barbara Hillary -- I want to be you when I grow up. Thank you underlining the fact that ANYTHING is possible if you can envision it and "old age" is a state of mind. Your energy is infectious coming off the page, I can only hope I get the chance to see you in action one day. Thank you for bringing your incredible story and message to children.

    Posted by GraceConroy, 11 May 2010.