Barbara Hillary : 1931 - 2019.
After learning that no black woman had ever made it to the North Pole, she challenged herself to become the first.

Barbara Hillary, the first black woman on record to reach the North Pole, which she did at the age of 75, and the first to reach the South Pole, which she did at 79, has died in a hospital New York City. She was 88.

Her death was announced on her website. A post on her Twitter account said her health had been declining in recent months. She had breast cancer in 20s and lung cancer in her 60s.

It was not until 1986 that any woman had reached the top of the world, with Ann Bancroft, a physical education teacher and explorer from Minnesota, becoming the first.

The first man there was Matthew Henson, who, along with Robert E. Peary, set foot on the North Pole in 1909.

Ms. Hillary had retired from a 55-year career as a nurse when, seeking adventure, she went dog-sledding in Quebec and photographed polar bears in Manitoba.

She then learned that no African-American woman had ever made it to the North Pole and challenged herself to become the first, though she had no funding and no organization behind her and had lost 25 percent of her breathing capacity from surgery for her lung cancer.

The expedition would require her to ski, which she had also never done before. ''It wasn't a popular sport in Harlem,'' the part of New York where she had grown up, she told The Seattle Times in 2007.

In preparation for the Trek, she took cross-country skiing lessons and hired a personal trainer.

She started eating more vegetables, increased her vitamin intake and worked out with weights. And she raised the necessary $25,000 , mostly through donations, for equipment and transportation.

There are a limited number of ways to reach the North Pole, which is in the middle of the Arctic Ocean, where the waters are almost permanently covered with shifting sea ice.

Ms. Hillary signed for an expedition with Eagles Cry Adventures and was deposited by helicopter at a Norwegian base camp about 30 miles from North Pole.

On April 23, 2007, another helicopter took her to a point on the ice that was ''within skiing distance of the North Pole,'' Ms. Hillary told the New Yorker magazine later that year, and she set off with a guide.

The Seattle Times reported ; As the sunlight glinted off the ice, distorting her vision, Hillary struggled beneath a load of gear and pressed on.

In her euphoria at reaching the Pole, she forgot the cold and removed her gloves, causing her fingers to become frostbitten.

Ms. Hillary told The New Yorker : ''I have never experienced such sheer joy and excitement. I was creaming, jumping up and down, for the first few minutes.''

The expedition only whetted her appetite for more. Four years, on January 6, 2011, she stood at the South Pole.

Ms. Hillary initially took these treks for the thrill of it, and to enjoy the beauty of the landscape, but she came to understand that climate change was wreaking havoc on the planet, not least its polar extremities, and began lecturing on the topic.

She also became a motivational speaker.

This year, at 87, she ventured to Outer Mongolia, where she visited a nomadic tribe whose rural way of life was disappearing because of climate change and the desertification of the steppes.

These expeditions were not without their creature comforts.

At the South Pole, for example, she indulged - perhaps overindulged .-her love of milk chocolate. As she told The New York Times in 2011, ''If I had frozen to death there, wouldn't it be said I'd gone to hell without getting what I want?''

The World Students Society thanks author Katharine Q. Seelye.


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