XX Factor

Explorers

    Photo: Anton Corbijn

EMMA RICHARDS 29
Round-the-World Sailor
Cowes, Scotland

WHY SHE RULES: Emma Richards can pinpoint the moment she decided to spend the rest of her life on the water. It was 1997, and she was crewing for British sailing legend Tracy Edwards on an all-female bid for a new round-the-world speed record when an ailing teammate handed her the wheel of the 92-foot catamaran Royal & Sun Alliance in the middle of the Southern Ocean. "At the end of that race," says the Scotland-born sailor, "I decided I didn't want to wait for other people to put teams together." And she didn't. Following in the footsteps of her rival, 26-year-old British star Ellen MacArthur, Richards has blasted through a dozen high-profile races, setting an all-female speed record (with 34-year-old Brit Miranda Merron) in the 2000 Round Britain and Ireland Race. Last May she finished fourth in the 28,800-mile, eight-month Around Alone, becoming the youngest competitor and first British woman ever to complete the grueling race. "You have to be a jack-of-all-trades," she says of solo endeavors, "always watching things like battery voltage and your food levels. It's as much project management as it is sailing." SAYS WHO: "I was quite surprised when Emma opted for single-handed sailing, since she is such a great team player," says Edwards, 41, whom Richards considers a mentor. "But Emma works hard at getting things right and never takes anything for granted." DRY-LAND EXERCISES: When not at sea, Richards derives perverse joy from carving up the British Isles' nearly nonexistent powder. "If you can snowboard in Scotland," she says, "you can do it anywhere." FORWARD SPIN: Richards is assembling a crew for the 2005 round-the-world Volvo Ocean Race, in which she'll likely go head to head with MacArthur. —JASON DALEY

LOUISE LEAKEY 31
Fossil Hunter
Nairobi, Kenya

WHY SHE RULES: In 1977, six-year-old Louise Leakey became the youngest human to find one of the oldest hominoids. Thirsty and exhausted from trying to keep up with her parents, renowned paleoanthropologists Richard and Meave, Louise plopped down in the dust in northwestern Kenya's Turkana Basin and picked up a shiny sliver of what looked like a tooth, which it was—from a 17-million-year-old primate. By age 12, the heir to the world's most famous archaeological dynasty (she's the granddaughter of Louis and Mary) was driving the Land Rover to pick up water for the team, and at age 18 she learned how to fly a single-engine Cessna 150. "You can't expect anyone to do something that you would not first do yourself," Louise says of growing up in the bush. In 1993, while she was at college in England, her father lost his legs in a plane crash, and Louise was summoned back to Africa to help her mother run the family's field camp. Six years later, the mother-daughter team found a 3.5-million-year-old skull that is believed to belong to a branch of early humans known as Kenyanthropus platyops—a discovery that confirmed her place within the Leakey legacy. "I have certainly stepped into big boots," she admits, "but there are many paths to walk them along." SAYS WHO: "Louise's love of fossils and her motivation to recover them from the field is as high as I've ever seen," says Richard Potts, director of the Smithsonian Institution's Human Origins Program. "She will make a tremendous contribution to science." HAVE A FOUR-CYLINDER MOTOR, WILL FLY: Last April, Louise and fiancée; Emmanuel de Merode, who works to protect great apes in the Democratic Republic of Congo, flew from France to Kenya in a homemade plane powered by a Subaru car engine. The trip took 45 hours. FORWARD SPIN: First there's the wedding, then the fundraising: Further fossil exploration along the eastern edge of Lake Turkana will cost an estimated $2.4 million over five years. —STEPHANIE PEARSON

RENATA CHLUMSKA 30
Expeditioner
Jönköping, Sweden

WHY SHE RULES: Renata Chlumska is one of those maddeningly natural athletes who makes every undertaking look easy. Growing up in Sweden, she dabbled in ballet, competitive cycling, jujitsu, and diving. In 1995 she took a rock-climbing course in Sweden and fell in love with the sport and her instructor, Swedish adventurer Göran Kropp. Chlumska caught the Himalayan bug the next year while managing Kropp's Everest base camp, and became the first Swedish woman to summit the peak in 1999. But it's her passion for long-haul exploration—such as her four-month, 4,000-mile bike ride from Nepal to Sweden with Kropp in '96—that sets her apart. When Kropp was killed in a September 2002 climbing accident, Chlumska vowed to move forward with their next expedition on her own: circumnavigating the lower 48 by bike, kayak, and foot. "Even though there are days I still think Göran's just away on a long trip," she says, "I only know how to go full force and follow my own dreams." SAYS WHO: "Renata can deal with long periods of exhausting work and is not easily intimidated by bad weather or big objectives," says IMAX filmmaker David Breashears, who befriended Chlumska while filming Everest in 1996. "The only thing that would surprise me about Renata is if she didn't achieve what she set out to do." WHAT'S HOLDING HER BACK: U.S. immigration officials don't recognize "multisport athlete" as a legitimate occupation and, at press time, aren't letting her back in the country. "She's survived rock-throwing and knife-wielding in Asia and the Middle East," says Ryan Hayter, PR consultant for Chlumska's gear sponsor, Helly Hansen, "but she can't seem to beat America's stiff immigration policies." FORWARD SPIN: Red tape aside, Chlumska hopes to launch her 11,600-mile trip from Seattle in July. "Thinking about it is the only thing that puts a smile on my face," she says. "It will help me build a platform for my next adventure." —DIMITY MCDOWELL

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