Feature: Leamington artist’s latest winter adventure proved to be her toughest test

Impermanence by Leila Javadi
Impermanence by Leila Javadi
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A Leamington artist and fitness enthusiast who has set her sights on being the first English woman to complete a 1,000-mile dog sled race across the Arctic desert has reflected on the “valuable experience” she gained from enduring her toughest winter in North America.

Leila Javadi, 31, spent five winters training to one day compete in the 1,000-mile Yukon Quest but found the months between 2016 to 2017 to be the most difficult yet as she suffered a number of setbacks.

She had flown out to work in Yukon with a new kennel, training 50 sled dogs and coaching strength and conditioning programmes to 
mushers. But within the first two weeks of her arrival in the Yukon she had been threatened to be stabbed over a dispute about green wood, was a passenger in a crash in an off-road vehicle and then was knocked down by a musher trying to avoid a dog fight.

She also had to suffer the stress of her mother being in and out of hospital back in the UK and heartache when her partner broke up with her.

Leila said: “In the five winters I had spent in North America this was certainly one of the worst.

“Still, I endured another four weeks, the management had not improved and so I left.

Leila Javadi sketching a musk ox

Leila Javadi sketching a musk ox

“I have no regrets for this, but the overwhelming sense of failure was difficult to swallow – I had made so many sacrifices to get to this point. It was truly heart breaking.”

Leila headed to Alaska but found the mood of the people there to have been affected by the election of Donald Trump as US President.

She said: “The upheaval was everywhere, the state was divided and long life friendships were being tested as individuals struggled with their sense of patriotism, love for their country and the conflicts arising.

“The winter’s events continued to be an uphill slog.

“Knowing when to give up is a skill I did not want to learn.”

Five months after she had flown out to the US, Leila decided to return home but faced five days of cancelled flights, lost luggage and £1,500 of additional costs due to snow storms before she arrived back in the UK.

She said: “I had prepared for a physically challenging season and expected a lot of emotional stress but the winter took its toll on me.

“I returned back to the UK, jobless, homeless and deeply saddened. I had failed, in every possible way.”

Struggling with feelings of depression, Leila decided to use the last of her savings to fly to the Perhentian Islands where she spent her days training using a log into which she had carved handles to make a makeshift barbell and also jogging through the jungle.

She said: “The Islamic prayers would echo beautifully across the white sand beaches throughout the day and provided me the perfect peaceful time to reflect inwards.

“I questioned why I keep pushing my body to the limit? When will it stop? When will I stop chasing dreams and start settling down like people keep telling me I should? When will I just be normal?

“I have my answer.

“When I thought back to why I started, I thought back to my beliefs.

“I learnt from a young age that dreams don’t work unless you do – I believed the world was full of wonder and beauty. I dreamed of exploring it, so I worked three jobs to fund my way.

“The only limits really are the ones you set yourselves. Money was and is a barrier – but as with most barriers they can be overcome with planning and consistent forward-thinking action.

“I now reflect on this past winter as a most valuable experience.

“I met so many supportive, good people who offered me kindness and love. Friends, family and strangers opened their homes and hearts to me in the Yukon, Alaska, England and Malaysia.

“I spent a white Christmas on a frozen lake with neighbours arriving by dog team to join me under the Northern Lights, pulling crackers and telling stories beside the campfire.

“Presents included the whole behind of a moose – it fed me for a month - Alaskan Salmon and children’s hand-drawn cards.

“I lived in a small cabin, using the neighbours’ dogs to haul firewood to keep my cabin warm and my paints from freezing.

“I travelled to watch 3,000 bald eagles arrive and had the opportunity to study and sketch Musk Ox.

“It was not a failed winter at all. I was surrounded by so much love, generosity and beauty - I just could not see it.

“So it all worked out for the better in the end.”

Leila is continuing to sell the artwork she has produced during her time in Alaska in order to raise money to try to achieve her goal.

This summer she exhibited her work and painted live at the Art in the Park two-day festival at Jephson Gardens in Leamington which proved to be a “fantastic welcome home”.

She said: “If you chase your dreams sometimes you are going to fall very hard.

“It is painful when you push yourself to your new limit. I know and believe that in order to succeed you must be prepared to fail. Accepting personal failures is the hard part. The lessons learnt this winter were absolutely invaluable and for that I am very grateful. If I did not take the risk I would be still sat here, quietly unsatisfied wondering ‘what if?’.

“Now, instead, I am back pulling tyres and roller-skiing out the door, training for a 150K endurance race in Lapland.”

Leila describes herself as an adventure wildlife artist and from a young age she dreamt of going into the vast wilderness.

A former Trinity Catholic School pupil who has worked as a personal trainer and GP referral instructor, her signature painting style first began to develop at Warwickshire College.

During her adventures, Leila has completed hundreds of miles of unguided Arctic expeditions, scuba dived with sharks, galloped on horse back through the Rocky Mountains, been charged at by an aggressive moose, had grizzly bears rip out the back end of a truck and endured temperatures of 50 below for days on end out in the baron wilderness.

To view the work Leila has for sale and to find out more about her visit www.whitewintergallery.com