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Lymington sailor turned TV presenter to present new series aimed at getting us fitter and healthier
SHE’S the sort of person everyone aspires to become – personifying every single New Year’s resolution out there.
Meet Hannah White – determined adventurer, three-times solo transatlantic sailor and TV presenter.
She’s up at 6am without fail to train, survives on green smoothies, swaps lie-ins for long walks, admits Googling lists of epic challenges in bed (rest days are hard for her), and her only guilty pleasure is eating carrot cake (made only by substituting the naughty ingredients).
In September she will take on the Three Peaks Yacht Race – normally attempted by teams of five – ALONE. That’s 389 miles of difficult coastal sailing, 18 miles of cycling, 72 miles of running and three mountain ascents in five days.
But the Lymington sailor, whose motto is “There’s no such thing as mission impossible”, says that will be easy compared to her current challenge.
On Monday, Hannah will present a major new TV series she devised herself, proving even the most unlikely people can take on incredible endurance challenges.
And through her four-part adventure series, Wonga Challenge Presents Go Hard or Go Home, the Countryfile presenter hopes to get the entire nation fitter and healthier.
“Anyone can get fit and do a challenge, it’s about believing you can,” Hannah chirps with her trademark enthusiasm.
“So much is possible if you work hard, believe in yourself and never give up.”
In the series 16 unfit, overweight and unmotivated couch potatoes aged from 29 to 64, including car dealers, doctors, pub landlords and members of the Women’s Institute, are trained by Hannah to take part in the most physically and mentally demanding challenges in the world, from the Toughest Canoe Race in Texas to The Bone Breaker 127-mile cycle race across the Pyrenees in just 12 weeks.
The idea for the series came from Hannah as she crossed the finish line in the 2009 Atlantic race, in which she came second in her class and was the first woman to finish.
During the race she feared for her life when she had to climb her 50ft mast in heavy seas to fix a piece of equipment.
But treacherous conditions meant she had ascended without the abseiling equipment that would enable her to get down safely, leaving her to free-climb down.
“There was definitely a moment I thought ‘How is this going to end?’, I just didn’t know.
“The human mind is an extraordinary thing, you can either let it run away going mad, or you can focus and use it to your advantage when things are tough.
“The alternative is not an option. I didn’t want to die,” says Hannah, a member of Royal Lymington Yacht Club, who began sailing aged 15 after being invited to crew at Cowes Week on the Isle of Wight.
“Crossing the finish line after working so hard and putting everything into it, it’s a feeling you just can’t begin to describe.
“I wanted to give everyone in the world the chance to experience the same, no matter what their fitness levels, because from that moment no matter what happens or comes in your path you feel like you can beat anything and achieve anything.”
And for many in the programme the experience proves life-changing.
“Preparing for a challenge you have set is hard. There is finding time – everyone’s first excuse – but people do find time once they prioritise and make sacrifices.
“Then there’s belief. That’s one of the hardest things. If you don’t have belief you’ll do something then you’ll never have a chance.
“And you have to want it too. There’s no point even starting until you really, really want it.
“Since completing the challenges, the impact on the competitors’ lives has been incredible.”
Hannah, who was part of the presenting team for the London 2012 Olympics, says a highlight for her was motivating a clinically obese woman who hated running to complete a half Iron Man challenge (a 1.2 mile swim, a 56-mile bike ride and a 13.1 mile run.”
“She cried,” Hannah says. “She didn’t believe she could even walk around the block.”
Now she runs several times a week and even has a new job.
“It was just absolutely amazing. I had some real moments with some of the ladies. Women tend to show their vulnerability and you become aware of what a long journey this was for all of them.
“When I saw these people cross the finish line of the world’s toughest events it was the most humbling thing I have ever done,” Hannah says.
For Hannah it’s about proving to people that anything is possible.
The programme aims to inspire 100,000 people to take up a personal challenge – however big or small – over the next three years through its Wonga Challenge campaign.
Hannah, a former pupil of Godolphin School, Salisbury, whose parents Martyn and Karen live in Lymington, says: “You don’t need to do an epic challenge or break records, just set yourself a goal, work hard and reap the rewards.
“I’m not naturally slim. I have to work hard but the rewards you get, the amount of energy, the effects on your hair and skin and confidence is so great, you don’t ever want to look back.
“Anyone who gets up in the morning, really loves life and says I am going to smash it today, someone who is not prepared to accept normality and those who go that bit further inspire me every day.
“My motto is ‘Be the best you can be’, and everyone can do that. Life is for living.”
n Wonga Challenge Presents Go Hard or Go Home starts on Channel 5 on Monday at 8pm.
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