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The Heroines of Telemark

Making It Happen


‘If something is important to me, I’ll find a way to make it happen,’ says Heather Sharp, founder of Force Wives Challenge (FWC) – a statement that chimes harmoniously with strategy execution consultants, Skarbek Associates.  It is one of the key reasons Skarbek is delighted to be sponsoring FWC’s latest adventure. On Sunday 13th March, an intrepid  team of ten women plus two reserves is flying to Norway to re-enact a challenging ski journey on the high mountain plateau of Hardangervidda in memory of a group of Norwegian saboteurs who risked all to carry out one of the most daring undercover operations of World War ll, to thwart Hitler’s efforts to build an atomic bomb.  It will be a gruelling journey. The women will be skiing over 100km at 3,500ft elevation with over 300kg of kit between them, in ferociously cold conditions. If successful, they will be the first all-women team to re-enact this journey of the so-called Heroes of Telemark. So, the mission defined, how is the planning and preparation progressing?

‘It’s grim, getting up in the dark every morning,’ says Heather, ‘hard to fit it all in.’  The alarm is set for 5.45am every morning, and with two young children, training has been on a Turbo Trainer in the shed, unless her husband is at home in which case she ventures further afield, dragging a hefty tyre around muddy fields – long the favoured training regime for snow-starved Brits building strength to pull pulks on polar journeys.

But there’s no doubting Heather’s commitment. A training programme that tells her what to do daily has kept her on track …and then there’s the team. ‘Everyone has prioritised training,’ says Heather. Covid has meant they haven’t trained together as much as they would have liked, but the sharing of videos on WhatsApp is a brilliant morale boost: Dr Kate walking to work with an expedition rucksack, young mums dragging tyres, toddlers strapped to their backs. To be a military wife has a raft of challenges, with husbands away, and the constant uprooting and resettling of families.  But there is also an extraordinary community spirit and the building of much needed resilience – something Heather celebrates. ‘I knew I couldn’t do this on my own,’ she says.  Hers was the unenviable task of selecting nine women plus two reserves to accompany her from a pool of 30 bright and eager candidates, and one of the criteria she used was the professional skills the women were able to bring to the table to ensure the vision could be translated into reality. The original kernel of an idea had to be developed into a narrative and a brand created to pitch to potential sponsors.  She needed women onboard with marketing and PR skills who could develop the whole package – women who, brilliantly, have delivered.

At 55 and the oldest in the group, Kaz Hockenhull, an HR professional and coach, confessed to a brief flutter of concern about her age and then immediately dismissed it.  Kaz experienced a difficult 12-week period of isolation during the pandemic, separated even from her family, and with the wisdom acquired through 30 years of military life, she knew the best cure was to reach out and help others. ‘How can I support this incredible bunch of women?’, was her first and enduring thought.  She was frankly shocked when she was selected onto the team.  However, having worked as a ski instructor and in mountain rescue, she has skills and experience to draw upon and quickly gained confidence as she got stuck into her training regime, raising a few eyebrows among fellow dog walkers as she dragged a tyre around Hyde Park.

‘It’s so empowering to be in a group of women who are 100% there for each other,’ she says.  ‘There is so much hierarchy in the military,’ she adds, but an understanding among those at FWC that no-one talks about their husband’s rank. ‘Underneath it all,’ she says, ‘we’re all just girls living our lives, our role to support each other and lift each other up.’

Boo Forster-Haig, a sports therapist, joined the team with the exact same attitude.  A keen athlete with a love of pushing her physical limits – kayaking, cycling, running – she recognises that her sporting activities and tigger-like positivity serves as inspiration for her patients.  So what that she’s never skied before!  ‘I’m going with the attitude that I’ll fall over a lot and that it can only get better!’

For all the women, the fact that they will be following in the footsteps of the heroic Norwegian saboteurs, covering the snowy terrain they covered, sleeping in the very same mountain huts that they slept in, is both humbling and inspirational.  ‘Will they speak to us on some sort of spiritual level?’ asks Kaz.  Only a few days to wait and see. ‘I’ll just feel happy when everyone is in Norway, we’re with our guides and all together,’ says Heather.  For now, she can reflect proudly that they’ve successfully mobilised a team, raised the funds, organised the logistics, fully trained, and are rearing to go – confident that together they will make this first all-female re-enactment a reality.