Welcome to part one in a series highlighting each panelist for the upcoming film festival on March 8, 2018, No Man’s Land: “an all-woman adventure film festival based out of the Rocky Mountains of Colorado that meets a need and desire to highlight and connect with women in pursuit of the radical.”
GISELLE CESIN – MOUNTAIN ENTHUSIAST
FERAL: Let’s start with an introduction! Tell us about yourself…where you’re from, when you came to Colorado, how you got into the outdoors – whatever it is that has shaped where you are now.
GISELLE: I am a journalist from Venezuela. I got into the outdoors since I started walking. I was always on my mountain bike, running, open water swimming, hiking, golfing, just anything outdoors. From early on I knew I wanted to spend most of my time in the outdoors.
I used to be a news anchor in Venezuela. I had a great job but somehow I felt trapped. I wanted to live the life I always dreamed. An accident at 6,000 meters where I burned 35% of my body was a wake up call. That is how I made it To Colorado. Now I am a master student at CU. Life IS good.
FERAL: You’re the first Venezuelan woman to summit Denali. Were you always drawn to climb mountains? How did it start?
GISELLE: I was drawn by my goals. By testing the human will power. I was, and I am, drawn to chase beauty and unique moments. It all started in 2001; I was a 14-year-old girl growing up in Venezuela. One day while watching the news I heard that the first Venezuelan team was on Everest, trying to put the Venezuelan flag in the highest point of Earth for the first time. I was in awe. It was a difficult time for me; my parents were getting divorced, I had stopped exercising, I was smoking. Listening about these guys trying to summit Everest, it gave me hope, it gave me perspective. I followed the expedition closely. A few months later, they did an exhibit in Caracas, I remember I was so excited. I told one of them, “one day I want to go to Base Camp”, and he said, “why basecamp if you can go to the top?” That day I realized that I could always go higher, that goals were meant to be real. I promised myself one day I was going to try.
I started training. After my heart surgery in 2012, doctors told me I was never going to be able to go into High Altitude. Or even exercise for more than an hour. Deep down I never believed them. They told me I was never going to be the same. I told them I did not want to be the same, I wanted to be different. Better. I wanted to lived. To FEEL my heart beating. And I did.
FERAL: With that, you have a unique background. Can you talk about some of the experiences/hurdles you’ve faced throughout your life? Whether that relates to sport, gender, any of the above…
GISELLE: I trained so hard for Denali. One day I emailed Steve House, way before Uphill Athlete. He replied that his coach Scott Johnston could help me. So it begins. First time was fighting with friends in Venezuela who told me that Denali was a place for men. Only Venezuelan men had been to Denali. Carrying weight they said was not for a girl. I got that in my mind. To the very end I did not believe I could pull it off. Sometimes people that care for you or love you, without knowing it, bring you down. Sitting on the summit of Denali, I realized how amazing the human will is. How you can literally amaze yourself with the things you can do. Denali was one of the highlights of my life. It was a gift to my country, that we Venezuelans even though we are going through the most dark period of our history. We can dream, we can achieve, we can make positive things. Hard work is the way.
FERAL: Backtracking a bit, you mentioned heart surgery in your recount of training for Denali and getting into mountain climbing. That shows a real testament of drive and motivation. Can you talk more about this, and your subsequent time focused on Everest?
GISELLE: So, I went to Aconcagua. I got into a major fire accident there. I was 3 months away to go to Everest. It was a horrible experience. I acted like it did not happen. Why? Because Denali gave me ego. I was obsessed with social media. I was a “famous” person in my country. I acted like the accident did not happen. I forced myself into 11 surgical cures without anesthesia because I did not want to lose any fitness. I needed to repeat the Denali feat and become the first Venezuelan woman to summit Everest. I put myself into horrible plain. I never talked to anyone about it; I would post stuff of how strong I was. 15 years after I promised myself that I was going to go to Everest, I made it there. I was depressed. I realized that I pushed my limits. Also that the dream of my life was not what I expected.
I made it to Camp 4. My heart surgery came back to hunt me. I developed pulmonary hypertension. I damaged my lung capacity forever in Everest. But I found myself. I let go of the ego. I accepted that I was still traumatized because of the accident. I deleted all my thousands of followers and I went back to basics.
I will forever be heartbroken about Everest. To me it is failure. But I know I gave all I had. I remember coming down after my failed summit push, sitting in Camp 1, crying my heart out, and thought to myself “you are crying in the freaking Western Cwm, you pretty much could be crying home”. It was bittersweet.
FERAL: It feels funny to ask “what’s next?” after talking about two of the most coveted mountaineering adventures a person can take on, but…what IS next?
GISELLE: I am going to the Moose’s Tooth in Alaska on April 4th.
FERAL: You’re joining us as part of the No Man’s Land film festival. How did you get involved with this event and what are you hoping it accomplishes for both women in the outdoor industry and beyond?
GISELLE: Zoe, one of my peers asked me. She said she though my story was inspiring. At first I did not want to be a part of it. But then I realized that if Zoe thought my story was inspiring, maybe I could inspire one person and all will be worth it. I BELIEVE that women should help and encourage each other.
I am just an ordinary woman. I am not professional, I am learning everyday about this world. I don’t consider myself a mountaineer, but an aspiring one, an enthusiast. If I can, anyone can, just get out there!