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The challenge — Trine Lisberg Toft is one of 18 women on the television series Sled Patrol, fighting to prove that she is strong enough for the elite naval unit Sirius.
Trine Lisberg Toft has an office on the sixth floor of a building at the Faculty of Health and Medical Sciences at Panum in Copenhagen. Since 2015, she has been working on the brain’s regulatory water production system.
Sledding through the icy landscapes of Northeast Greenland is a lot different from her normal routine. But Trine Lisberg Toft could not resist the temptation when Danish television broadcaster DR in February 2023 sought out participants for a new programme — Sled Patrol.
Over the course of six episodes, 18 women are subjected to an intensive course inspired by the Danish armed forces’ admission test and the Sirius Dog Sled Patrol’s preschool.
The winner of Sled Patrol [Slædepatruljen] does not get a place in the real unit – no woman has yet to do so – but the opportunity to show that she has what it takes.
The programme can be viewed on DR.
By means of tests of strength and collaborative exercises, the programme aims to find the most suitable woman out of 18 for the Sirius — an elite Danish naval unit. The winner is offered a trip, but will not automatically be offered a job, because this requires even more work – in addition to an education from the Danish military.
But the programme Sled Patrol runs over six episodes, and in the last three of them, a reduced number of participants ride with the Sirius Patrol’s own crew through Northeast Greenland, and it was the prospect of that trip that had Trine Lisberg Toft sign up.
The tough ride calls for a special type of woman: In her spare time, Trine Lisberg Toft is an ultra long distance runner, so she is in good shape. Still, she noted, on the first episode the 17 other participants were presented with their preferred sports. She was presented as a neuroscientist.
The participants had to go through a tough, physical admissions test already on the first episode.
»I thought: Now you’re getting your ass kicked. We had to do some exercises that were a part of the other women’s daily training regimen. There were even two of them who said they found it fun to do push ups. I don’t think so. Even though I was able to do the required number,« says Trine Lisberg Toft.
She passed all of the first episode’s physically demanding tests – and then she started to become more confident:
»As soon as we had overcome the first challenges, I got the feeling that I could actually compete for the Greenland places, as our mental fortitude started to matter a lot more in the exercises. And this is where I am strong,« says Trine Lisberg Toft.
She realised that most of the other women saw their participation in Sled Patrol as a competition they had to win at all costs. Trine Lisberg Toft, on the other hand, took a different view on her participation.
»I’m a very competitive person myself, and I really want to succeed. But when it comes to winning this competition to get on the Sirius Patrol, we were sent out as a team, and it is therefore important to be able to cooperate,« says Trine Lisberg Toft.
I am still convinced that there should have been a place for me in Greenland. Instead, I had to take the loser bus back to Denmark.
From the very beginning, she was aware that it was not about showing that you can do more than the others when you are on a team.
»It was the cooperation and communication exercises we were doing. They were exciting, and as the exercises progressed, I began to see who would be left as a complete human being,« says Trine Lisberg Toft.
Trine Lisberg Toft wanted, first and foremost, to go on an adventure.
She didn’t want to get hired by the Sirius Dog Sled Patrol because she’s 41 years old, has two children, and is satisfied with her own career.
»My goal with Sled Patrol was to reach episodes four, five and six, which take place in Northeast Greenland — to drive the dogs and be with the people of the Sirius Dog Sled Patrol in their daily lives. The really exciting thing about the Sirius Dog Sled Patrol is that they go on some very long trips, where they completely check out of society,« says Trine Lisberg Toft.
Nobody lives in Northeast Greenland. Nature is harsh, but it is also alluring:
TRAIL AND ULTRA RUNNING
Trine Lisberg Toft has a PhD in neuroscience with an MSc in molecular biomedicine, and a BSc in biology from UCPH.
In her spare time, she does trail and ultra running, where she runs for up to 24 hours in a row, sometimes in mountainous terrain.
It is important to be able to have an inner dialogue with yourself to stay focused during the long runs, she says. She believes that this has given her the mindset and stamina that could have taken her a long way in Sled Patrol.
»It’s one big nature reserve, and the Sirius people come to a world where everything is just completely silent. All you have to do is survive in nature with your buddy and your sled dogs. I think it’s absolutely amazing. And I would really like to try to work with the routines of riding a sled dog patrol in the big white landscape and immerse myself into these harsh conditions,« she says.
But things didn’t go to plan for the UCPH researcher.
The programme’s third episode takes place in Sweden. Nine out of 18 participants remain, including Trine Lisberg Toft.
Here, they get the final assignment that will send six of the participants to North-East Greenland: Do a 100 kilometre trek on cross-country skis.
Trine Lisberg Toft has used skis. And even though this does not include cross-country skiing, as an ultra distance runner she has learned to be persistent and can go a long way. She therefore feels that she has an advantage and will be able to cope.
»I honestly thought I was already in Greenland,« she says.
But after skiing for just over 50 kilometres, she falls on the trail which has started to freeze over. She hits her head and suffers a minor concussion – and even though she tries to to get back into the competition, the on site doctor decides to pull her out because of her injury.
»I didn’t feel tired or exhausted, and like most participants, I fell multiple times. I was just unlucky once, and I might as well have hit my shoulder or an arm, but I hit my head,« says Trine Lisberg Toft.
Trine Lisberg Toft reckons that it has been fantastic to be a part of Sled Patrol, because it has given her an adventure that she could not have planned herself.
»I got the opportunity to try something completely new, and it has given me new contacts. The show has opened some new doors for me, so there are new adventures in the pipeline which I cannot yet reveal,« she says.
Watching the programme on screen has been a bit tough for her however, because some of the memories hurt.
»It was a huge disappointment for me to get a physical injury that meant I couldn’t finish, because it was the worst thing that could have happened to me,« says Trine Lisberg Toft.
After the accident, she did get really good feedback from the Sled Patrol’s experts, and this gave her food for thought however.
»I am still convinced that there should have been a space for me in Greenland,« says Trine Lisberg Toft. »Instead, I had to take the loser bus back to Denmark.«