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Our board member Gillian is an avid adventure seeker and climber of peaks. On May 23rd, International Day to End Obstetric Fistula, she will be travelling to Mexico to climb Iztaccihuatl and Pico de Orizaba, standing at 5,215 meters and 5,630 meters, respectively. Pico de Orizaba is the third highest peak in North America. The climb will be called Mountains for Mamas as a dedication to raise funds for IMR’s work to treat women suffering from obstetric fistula.

Gillian has been a great supporter of IMR and we wanted to learn more about what intrigues her about scaling peaks and how she prepared for this huge feat! Thank you Gillian for climbing these 2 Mexican peaks as a fundraiser for IMR. We are humbled and awed by this endeavor.

1) What about these two Mexican peaks drew you and what are you doing to prep for these climbs?

Any day on a mountain is better than a day at sea level! It’s become a small obsession of mine, so I have slowly begun to build my climbing resume. I choose these two peaks because they allow me to go relatively high in a relatively short amount of time. And the views are other-worldly gorgeous! But as you aptly ask, climbing is just as much about the process as it is about summiting. And so we start at the beginning…

The mountain commands all your faculties so I try to find balance among differing regimens. I lift weights for strength– every day is leg day! For cardio, I run in rain, snow or shine with my trusty, fluffy steed of a puppy named Benji. And when I can, I do an epic 3 hour session on the stair-master with 40-50 lbs in my pack. For physical and mental balance, I do yoga. There is something magical and deeply applicable about learning to breathe through difficult poses.

2) What are your future goals as a climber?

In truth, I’d love to do this full time. But in the meantime I hope to find my way to the Himalayas later this year or early next year. I would love to tackle a 7000 meter peak, whether in the Himalayas, the Karakorum or the Trans-Alay Range. The idea is to systematically test how your body will react at increased altitude as well as acquire the skills you need to operate in these inhospitable environments. Mistakes are amplified in the theater of high altitude mountaineering and only through experience can you learn how to operate in these hostile conditions. And with this experience I’d love to eventually climb something a little higher like Shishapangma, Cho Oyo or even Everest. But with a slightly more unusual intention. Since the advent of commercial high altitude mountaineering, anyone with a dream and a checkbook could find their way onto Everest. This doesn’t interest me. My dream is to be a part of a rope fixing team and humbly shadow the incredible Sherpa mountaineers who are the oxygen of the Himalayan climbing ecosystem. This is a lofty dream, but you have to take that first step sometime and somewhere.

Though through it all, my ultimate goal is to raise loads of funds in support of IMR when I climb!

3) How does climbing reflect your outlook on life?

One can make the obvious inferences regarding climbing - as a single mother in New York City, the proverbial application is certainly fitting. Often you feel like you’re battling uphill against the wind and elements of an industry (and society) that was not constructed in your favor, all while your thighs and toes are burning in new and unfathomable ways. Nevertheless, I have spent most of my professional years helping pave the way for and supporting women in a male dominated industry through my leadership roles in women’s networks at various investment banks. High altitude mountaineering, similar to finance, is very male dominated but, as with all things in the natural world, mountains are the great equalizer an show no favoritism. I hope my burgeoning story will inspire any young girl with a dream to do something that others, whether directly or indirectly, tell you that you can’t.

Mountains have a way of amplifying the conundrum of the human condition. There’s an internal shift that happens when you’re at the mercy of this beautiful, wild planet. You realize that safety is an illusion, and as much as you want to believe that you are in control, the unforgiving elements, the terrain’s unpredictability and your shallow breath remind you that are not. You are stripped of your past and future; nothing matters but the present. And your present is only your next step, the next one… and the one after that. There is a quiet grace to this simplicity juxtaposed against the backdrop of the harshest places on this planet. While traversing this relentless present, if you can support the human ahead or behind you in the climb of life, that’s when you realize what it’s all about: loving hard as we climb with purpose, intention and grace. And as a mother, I can’t think of an intention more fitting than to support new mothers in their next step, on one of their most difficult climbs.

If you would like to contribute to her campaign, please click here.