You think your mum is invincible

SUE RICHES HAD JUST RECOVERED FROM BREAST CANCER WHEN SHE JOINED HER DAUGHTER, VICTORIA, ON AN EXPEDITION TO THE NORTH POLE. WHEN SUE FELL THROUGH THE ICE, VICTORIA WENT TO SAVE HER...; A Family Affair

Sue Riches, 52, teaches English to foreign students and lives near Wolverhampton. She has three children including her daughter Victoria, 28, who is a primary school teacher living in Oxford. They joined the first ever women's polar expedition walking to the North Pole last March. They talk about the dicey moment when Sue fell into the freezing waters of the Arctic, swiftly followed by Victoria, and how they both managed to survive...

Sue

It was Victoria's idea - I'd never dream of going to the North Pole but at that point I was ripe for adventure. I'd just had breast cancer and a mastectomy. The breast cancer was a catalyst; something like that makes you get on with things and think, "Never say no". We went last March and flew out for a fortnight of training in Northern Canada.

Victoria and I have always been very close, although it was the first time I saw her not necessarily as my child but as a team member. I hadn't lived with Victoria in such close proximity for years. I could suddenly see her as this real person - not as an appendage of myself.

I think the drama of falling into the Arctic did bring us a lot closer. It happened quite suddenly. We were walking along and then the ice collapsed beneath me. I fell in up to my neck. The chunks of ice were held together by two giant ice islands which split. Then Victoria fell in trying to save me, probably thinking: "Oh my father will kill me if anything happens to mum."

So there we were, both sitting in the middle of the Arctic ocean on two lumps of ice, with more and more water rushing in around us. Eventually - we were incredibly lucky - I held out my ski to Victoria who pulled me over to her ice island and a guide threw a rope to us.

That was the most frightening day of my life. The sea is about 2.5 miles deep and you're 14 hours from help. But in the Arctic, you can't escape. You just have to keep going.

We talked about it afterwards and we both knew that the two of us had been in a potentially dangerous situation. I think it was the shock of being there with Victoria trying to save me and not the other way round - it was the whole process of role reversal. I was meant to be the strongest but she was in control.

I've always been in control of my life but I was sitting on my lump of ice and there was absolutely nothing I could do. I found that very upsetting. The only other time I haven't felt in control was when I had breast cancer and Victoria was a great help with that. As another woman, she was a great rock and knew what would comfort me.

We know how each other's mind works, which helped on the expedition. Initially, one of the guides said that she never liked family members in the same team because they're too worried about each other. But she took that back when she saw how we could be aware of others. I think she meant husband and wife, because mother and daughter is a different sort of relationship. A daughter wants to be independent and the mother encourages her child to get on with it, which is why we worked well.

Looking back, I almost feel guilty that I wasn't more protective of her. People would say afterwards: "Weren't you terribly worried about Victoria?" No, I wasn't. She was far more worried about me.

At points, she drove me mad because she's terribly tidy and neat, and I'm not. I kept losing my tea bags and she'd get very cross with me. But the most touching thing was overhearing her say to someone on the expedition: "Mum isn't my mother, she's my best friend."

Victoria is a very strong person. I know she wants to go off to the Pole next year and I'm not worried. I've seen her on her worst days and how she's got herself through them. I can picture her every step of the way and I know she can do it.

Victoria

I'd never dreamt of going to the North Pole - I was working in recruitment at the time. But then I saw this advert in a newspaper and thought: "This is it." I thought it could give me a chance to reassess both my love life and work.

I phoned up mum for a gossip and she claims I invited her. I claim she invited herself. We had to go through two selection weekends and then two weeks' training. At the beginning, dad wasn't for it, especially because she'd just survived cancer. But he was terribly proud of us.

What happened on the expedition made me realise how much my mother meant to me. One minute we were walking in front of the rest of the party and suddenly the ice gave way under mum. I very carefully trod on what I thought was a good bit of ice and that gave way as well. We had ice breaking away and the stretch of water around us getting wider and wider. You're taught to climb on to an ice floe and float to a bank. Eventually mum and I were on separate floes but by this stage she was in a dreadful state. All she was saying was, "Shit, shit, shit", which isn't like mum at all - she never swears.

There was this funny look in her eyes like a rabbit caught in the headlights. I knew that I had to take control. They say you can only survive a matter of minutes in the Arctic - we must have been in there about ten. Finally, I got mum on to my ice island and then someone got a sledge for us to climb from the floe to the bank.

Mum was terrified she had frostbite in her foot - she didn't in the end. Then, because the ice had split, we were separated from the rest of the party. That's when what seemed like a miracle occurred; the ice suddenly joined together and we were able to walk across. And more incredible, as soon as we were on the other side, the ice separated again.

After that, we were far more protective of each other. I was actually worse two or three days later. I went into shock - every bit of ice we climbed over I'd burst into tears. I was more pathetic about the whole thing - perhaps mum had faced up to dying more after her breast cancer experience.

We were good at comforting each other, though, and it definitely brought us closer together. I realised how much I really rely on her - she is my best friend. I've got millions of friends but mum is the one I call every night. Looking back, the biggest shock was thinking: "Mum's not supposed to be like that. Mum's always in control." Even if she's driving in the rain, I feel more concerned about her now - it's after seeing her minutes from dying and thinking, "I don't want to lose you". I'd feel absolutely empty without her. That's fine at 70 or 80 years of age, but not now.

I do still have nightmares of that day, of the ice closing over mum. You think your mum and dad are invincible. Mum always gets on with things but that time she didn't - she had the wobbles . I'd never seen her like that before.

Sue and Victoria have written about their experience, `Frigid Women', published by Travellerseye at pounds 7.99

Interviews by Emma Cook

Arts and Entertainment
Rhino Doodle by Jim Carter (Downton Abbey)

TV
Arts and Entertainment
Christian Grey cradles Ana in the Fifty Shades of Grey film

film
Arts and Entertainment
Chris Pratt stars in Guardians of the Galaxy
film
Arts and Entertainment
Comedian 'Weird Al' Yankovic

Is the comedy album making a comeback?

comedy
PROMOTED VIDEO
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Arts and Entertainment
Sue Perkins and Mel Giedroyc, centre, are up for Best Female TV Comic for their presenting quips on The Great British Bake Off

TV
Arts and Entertainment
Martin Freeman as Lester Nygaard in the TV adaptation of 'Fargo'

TV
Arts and Entertainment
A scene from Shakespeare in Love at the Noel Coward Theatre
theatreReview: Shakespeare in Love has moments of sheer stage poetry mixed with effervescent fun
Arts and Entertainment
Dwayne 'The Rock' Johnson stars in Hercules

film
Arts and Entertainment
Standing the test of time: Michael J Fox and Christopher Lloyd in 'Back to the Future'

film
Arts and Entertainment
<p><strong>2008</strong></p>
<p>Troubled actor Robert Downey Jr cements his comeback from drug problems by bagging the lead role in Iron Man. Two further films follow</p>

film
Arts and Entertainment

theatre
Arts and Entertainment
Tycoons' text: Warren Buffett and Bill Gates both cite John Brookes' 'Business Adventures' as their favourite book

books
Arts and Entertainment
Panic! In The Disco's Brendon Urie performs on stage

music
Arts and Entertainment

film
Arts and Entertainment
Keira Knightley and Benedict Cumberbatch star in the Alan Turing biopic The Imitation Game

film
Arts and Entertainment

TV
Arts and Entertainment
Radio 4's Today programme host Evan Davis has been announced as the new face of Newsnight

TV
Arts and Entertainment
Pharrell Williams performing on the Main Stage at the Wireless Festival in Finsbury Park, north London

music
Arts and Entertainment
Carrie Mathison returns to the field in the fourth season of Showtime's Homeland

TV
Arts and Entertainment
Crowds soak up the atmosphere at Latitude Festival

music
Arts and Entertainment
Meyne Wyatt and Caren Pistorus arrive for the AACTA Aawrds in Sydney, Australia

TV
Arts and Entertainment
Rick Astley's original music video for 'Never Gonna Give You Up' has been removed from YouTube

music
Arts and Entertainment
Quentin Blake's 'Artists on the beach'

Artists unveils new exhibition inspired by Hastings beach

art
Arts and Entertainment
MusicFans were left disappointed after technical issues
Independent
Travel Shop
the manor
Up to 70% off luxury travel
on city breaks Find out more
santorini
Up to 70% off luxury travel
on chic beach resorts Find out more
sardina foodie
Up to 70% off luxury travel
on country retreats Find out more
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?

ES Rentals

    Independent Dating
    and  

    By clicking 'Search' you
    are agreeing to our
    Terms of Use.

    Backhanders, bribery and abuses of power have soared in China as economy surges

    Bribery and abuses of power soar in China

    The bribery is fuelled by the surge in China's economy but the rules of corruption are subtle and unspoken, finds Evan Osnos, as he learns the dark arts from a master
    Commonwealth Games 2014: Highland terriers stole the show at the opening ceremony

    Highland terriers steal the show at opening ceremony

    Gillian Orr explores why a dog loved by film stars and presidents is finally having its day
    German art world rocked as artists use renowned fat sculpture to distil schnapps

    Brewing the fat from artwork angers widow of sculptor

    Part of Joseph Beuys' 1982 sculpture 'Fettecke' used to distil schnapps
    BBC's The Secret History of Our Streets reveals a fascinating window into Britain's past

    BBC takes viewers back down memory lane

    The Secret History of Our Streets, which returns with three films looking at Scottish streets, is the inverse of Benefits Street - delivering warmth instead of cynicism
    Joe, film review: Nicolas Cage delivers an astonishing performance in low budget drama

    Nicolas Cage shines in low-budget drama Joe

    Cage plays an ex-con in David Gordon Green's independent drama, which has been adapted from a novel by Larry Brown
    How to make your own gourmet ice lollies, granitas, slushy cocktails and frozen yoghurt

    Make your own ice lollies and frozen yoghurt

    Think outside the cool box for this summer's tempting frozen treats
    Ford Fiesta is UK's most popular car of all-time, with sales topping 4.1 million since 1976

    Fiesta is UK's most popular car of all-time

    Sales have topped 4.1 million since 1976. To celebrate this milestone, four Independent writers recall their Fiestas with pride
    10 best reed diffusers

    Heaven scent: 10 best reed diffusers

    Keep your rooms smelling summery and fresh with one of these subtle but distinctive home fragrances that’ll last you months
    Commonwealth Games 2014: Female boxers set to compete for first time

    Female boxers set to compete at Commonwealth Games for first time

    There’s no favourites and with no headguards anything could happen
    Five things we’ve learned so far about Manchester United under Louis van Gaal

    Five things we’ve learned so far about United under Van Gaal

    It’s impossible to avoid the impression that the Dutch manager is playing to the gallery a little
    Screwing your way to the top? Good for Lana Del Rey for helping kill that myth

    Screwing your way to the top?

    Good for Lana Del Rey for helping kill that myth, says Grace Dent
    Will the young Britons fighting in Syria be allowed to return home and resume their lives?

    Will Britons fighting in Syria be able to resume their lives?

    Tony Blair's Terrorism Act 2006 has made it an offence to take part in military action abroad with a "political, ideological, religious or racial motive"
    Beyoncé poses as Rosie the Riveter, the wartime poster girl who became a feminist pin-up

    Beyoncé poses as Rosie the Riveter

    The wartime poster girl became the ultimate American symbol of female empowerment
    The quest to find the perfect pair of earphones: Are custom, 3D printed earbuds the solution?

    The quest to find the perfect pair of earphones

    Earphones don't fit properly, offer mediocre audio quality and can even be painful. So the quest to design the perfect pair is music to Seth Stevenson's ears
    US Army's shooting star: Lt-Col Steven Cole is the man Hollywood calls when it wants to borrow a tank or check a military uniform

    Meet the US Army's shooting star

    Lt-Col Steven Cole is the man Hollywood calls when it wants to borrow a tank or check a military uniform