Jan 31, 2015

This Girl Can. Why beef jerky is my caviar...

“My gameface has lipstick on it.”

I’ve been tremendously inspired by the recent ‘This Girl Can’ campaign. It’s great to finally see a campaign celebrating and showcasing active women up and down the UK who are doing their thing, inspiring women of all sizes, abilities and experience to “wiggle, jiggle, move and prove that judgement is a barrier that can be overcome.” Sport can and should be an enjoyable part of life.

You can watch the campaign teaser video here: http://youtu.be/i-moaoJVbHs

Delivered by Sport England and delivered in partnership with a wide range of organisations including the BMC, the campaign aims to address some thought provoking findings. Research by universities and other sports foundations found that 2 million fewer women are regularly participating in sport or exercise than men, despite 75 per cent of women aged 14 to 40 saying they’d like to do more. 

So what’s stopping them?

The research says that fear of judgement prevents many women taking part in sport and activity. In a recent interview with the BBC, Sport England chief executive Jennie Price shared, "One of the strongest themes was a fear of judgement. Worries about being judged for being the wrong size, not fit enough and not skilled enough came up time and again."

The campaign slogans use humour and a cheeky, edgy attitude to address that. The supporting images are a far cry from the perfectly tanned, perfectly tonned, cellulite free and quite frankly, unrealistic images that are used by the media in the womens fitness and outdoors market.

Where does this cultural "perception" of 'what is and what isn't' feminine come from?

I’ve always loved the outdoors and have always been fairly sporty.  So sporty in fact that growing up I simply accepted the label of ‘tomboy’ – a term that the ‘This Girl Can’ campaign tackles head-on. Why do you have to be compared to a boy just because you like sports? Why should it be unfeminine to run around, get muddy or play what was always predominately classed as “male sports”? Where does this cultural perception of 'what is and isn't' feminine come from?

6 years ago I took my first step into the world of mountaineering on an expedition to climb a 6,000m peak in the Nepal Himalaya. I found myself facing the tomboy label once again and in the minority on the mountain – not a real surprise as only one in ten people inquiring about exploratory climbing expeditions are women.

But why?

In my opinion it's not about women being less adventurous than men or about there being fewer women who embrace mountain sports or become mountain athletes. Rather, I believe it has more to do with the image being projected to us through the media that it’s only Amazonian, pain-loving super-athletes who can go on such expeditions, supported by production teams and sponsorships. There’s a perception that in making the decision to climb you must put both career and family on the backburner. That you have to grit your teeth for every photograph and you’d have to morph into a female, long-haired mascara-wearing version of Bear Grylls... 

But I know that this isn’t the case at all. I know this because the description above definitely doesn’t describe me! And it definitely doesn't describe most of the women I've met in the mountains.

In the past 6 years I’ve spent over 13 months in total on male-dominated expeditions, living above 5,000 metres thanks to a passion for high-altitude mountaineering.  I have a full time job. I have family commitments. I have to train. And no, it isn’t always fun. I definitely don’t look pretty after 2 months without a shower, let alone a week. On these expeditions, mascara and muff-wipes are considered taboo. Finally, no one looks sexy in a down suit…. 

But I’m going to let you in on a secret. 

My heels are good on ice.

Showers are overrated.

My linnens are goose down.

I run up escalators.

Down suits are my Spanx.

Beef jerky is my caviar.

I’m proud to be a sporty woman, a 'diva in down'. And I’m proud to have earned my place in the mountains through sheer discipline, commitment, courage and creativity. I’m equally thrilled to see that the BMC) is promoting the campaign. And I’m going to keep climbing these mountains – both real and proverbial –and hope that I can inspire others to do the same so that in the future more of my climbing team mates are women.

Llanberis Mountain Film Festival (LLAMFF)

A few weeks ago I was asked to speak at The Llanberis Mountain Film Festival (LLAMFF), running from 6th to 8th March 2015 across a number of venues local to Llanberis, in Wales.  I’m honoured to be sitting alongside a panel of inspiring women for the 'Game Changers' evening, sharing our personal stories which cover youngest ascents, epic climbs, global expeditions, ocean rows and international mountaineering. 

The film and lecture programme will run from 1800 – 2230 daily and you can book seats for any showing or lectures directly through the LLAMFF events listings: https://llamff.yapsody.com

Jan 18, 2015

Please support the 2015 Wellbeing of Women Kilimanjaro Climb!

I was a little terror as a child. Between my brothers and I, we did our utmost to test my mothers patience. A farm in rural Canada proved to be the ultimate adventure playground and the setting for more than one instance where adventures went a bit too far… Personal highlights include getting stuck – waist deep – in the mud of a freshly ploughed field at the age of 6 (in my best Sunday clothes); filling our pool with a thick concoction of water, mud and grass clippings – playing in the soppy mixture all afternoon and then tracking it (literally) throughout the house; countless mud-ball fights (strategically laced with rocks and nails) with my brothers; and the piece de resistance, smashing all of the windows out of our barn along with the windows of my Dad’s antique car, an old Beaumont, in an effort to recreate the closing scenes of the Michael Jackson ‘Black or White’ video… 

Somehow my brothers and I managed to survive life on the farm… More remarkably, my Mom managed to maintain a sense of humour and a smile throughout (between the occasional moments of discipline). Despite the many occasions that we tested her patience, she continued to fill our lunch boxes each morning, ensure that we were properly dressed, make dinner each evening, drove me to ballet, piano, soccer, volleyball etc, ensure that we took our vitamins, brushed our teeth, and got to bed on time. She did this rain or shine even when she may have been battling the colds and flus we took home from school.

Coming full circle...

I’m now around the same age that my Mom was when she did all these things for my brothers, sister and I.  Life feels a bit like it’s come full circle. It’s only now that I have a full appreciation of how lucky I am to have such an amazing Mom . I also have an appreciation of just how much strength and effort it must have taken to raise all of us and hold the family together. Finally, and perhaps fundamentally, how lucky I am to have both directly and indirectly benefitted from the research funded by health charities such as Wellbeing of Women. 

Wellbeing of Women is a charity dedicated to improving the health of women, mothers and babies through research, training and education. Through the research funded by Wellbeing of Women, our whole family benefitted. Since it was founded 50 years ago, Wellbeing of Women has, through the generous support from its donors, invested in research projects and allocated funds towards the training of doctors and midwives.

The charity conducts research to address statistics such as these:
  • 1 in 2 women in the UK will suffer from some kind of reproductive or gynecological health problem
  • 17 babies a day die in the UK at or near birth (they are either stillborn or die shortly after birth)
  • 145 women a week in the UK die of a gynecological cancer (ovarian cancer, womb cancer)
  • 2 million women suffer the pain of endometriosis
  • 1 in 5 pregnancies end in miscarriage
Wellbeing of Women encourages women – mothers, sisters, daughters, grandmothers, friends, colleagues - to take more interest in their own health and ensure that they have the appropriate access to education and care to do so. I’m tremendously inspired by the achievements and progress that has already been made to date. Some success stories can be found here: http://www.wellbeingofwomen.org.uk/research/success-stories/?menu=11c

Wellbeing of Women has also made me appreciate my mother, my sister and gorgeous nieces and nephews even more and the care that they have received since the day their imminent arrival into the family was announced. They truly are a miracle of life and I feel so tremendously blessed to be able to enjoy them and watch them grow up… even though, at times, they test my patience just as we did my mothers!

The Wellbeing of Women Kilimanjaro Climb...

Besides being the ultimate adventure playground, growing up on a farm also instilled in me a passion for the outdoors. It proved to be the setting that allowed me to push my creative and physical limits which ultimately led me to climb on some of the highest mountains in the world. From rural roots to Himalayan heights. 

Last year, supported by my employer, PwC, I decided to leverage my passion for adventure and share it with others to benefit the research supported by Wellbeing of Women. Together with an intrepid team of 8 other women we climbed to the 5,895 meters (19,341 feet) summit of Kilimanjaro, the highest mountain in Africa, and raised over 25,000 GBP /  $35,000 for Wellbeing of Women. Our collective efforts helped to support by supporting two Wellbeing of Women funded researchers to investigating a new treatment for womb cancer and developing new treatments for premature birth.

Building on the success of last years climb, I decided with the support of PwC, to organise a second Kilimanjaro climb which is now scheduled to take place from 21 Feb – 1 March, 2015. This year we have an intrepid team of 14 climbers who will venture to Tanzania to undertake the challenge on behalf of Wellbeing of Women. 

Heading to altitude is never an easy or comfortable experience and the opportunity to lead an even bigger team this year whilst managing expectations ‘back at the ranch’ is going to be an equal challenge of leadership. It will put to the test the skills I’ve learned from past expeditions – discipline, commitment, courage and creativity. 

Having said that, I can’t think of a more inspiring team. Made up entirely of PwC colleagues from different backgrounds, business units, and ages it will be a tremendous adventure. I look forward to the opportunity to learn and work as a team to collectively surpass our fundraising target and reach the roof of Africa. Our efforts will ensure that research will continue into fertility, miscarriage, gynaecological cancers, pregnancy complications and menopause.

Doing so will ensure that we can continue to benefit from the love and care, that we have with the women and babies in our lives.

Please consider the women, mothers and babies in your life...

To ensure that this research can continue, I ask that you please consider making a donation to Wellbeing of Women. Your donation, however big or small, will ensure that we can continue to transform the lives of every woman and baby in the UK and many more worldwide. 

Please show your support by making a donation directly via our page below. All funds will be matched by PwC.

My fundraising page: https://mydonate.bt.com/fundraisers/heathergeluk

Our team page: https://mydonate.bt.com/teams/wowclimbteam2015

On behalf of the Wellbeing of Women Kilimanjaro Climb Team, a huge thank you for your support… and for considering of the women in your life!

We had t-shirts to ensure that Mom could keep our names straight
My sister Melanie, Mom and I
Despite the fact we were crazy as children I'd like to think we turned out ok!

Jan 3, 2015

Feature Article: CK SportsXpress.ca - "From Country Chic to Diva in Down - How rural roots have led to Himalayan heights"

From Country Chic to Diva in Down - Chatham Kents Heather Geluk shares how rural roots have led to Himalayan heights
(article featured in the January/February 2015 edition of SportsXpress.ca -- the 2015 Launch Edition, highlighting teams and people from all over Chatham-Kent)

I remember dragging my red plastic sled up the hill, breaking trail through knee-deep snow. Gasping, I took the final few staggered steps to the summit of Mount Ridgetown. My legs were burning with exhaustion and I could feel my heart pounding through my hand-me-down snowsuit.  I remember how much it hurt and how much focus it took. But I also remember the exhilaration of reaching a goal that my little eight-year-old self had persevered to attain. And so began my passion for climbing.

Almost 30 years years later, perched on a ledge at 26,000 feet on the sheer icy face of Mount Everest in the Nepal Himalaya, I couldnt help but reflect on the journey that took me from my rural roots to the slopes of some of the highest mountains in the world. Its hard to pinpoint one specific event or person that prompted this culmination of events. Rather, I think that what growing up in small-town Ontario instilled in me was an interest in people and a respect and passion for the outdoors.

My first job was at a local flower shop on Ridgetowns vibrant Main Street. It was there that I was taught firsthand the importance of community and of relationships; shared emotion, empathy and those little extra touches that make all the difference.

This small town interest in people has inspired me throughout my climbing career on expeditions  to Argentina, Peru, Nepal, Tibet, Tanzania, Iran, India and the Far East. Whilst the objective of each expedition is to reach the summit of a mountain, the journey to reach this objective is made richer by the people met along the way. Actions as simple as sharing a hot cup of tea, a hug at the end of a long day of climbing, a high five on the summit.  These are the moments that have inspired me every step of the way - from that hill in Ridgetown to my first job at the local florist, to the summits of some of the highest mountains in the world.

Ive always found it fascinating to see how people carve a life out of the earth - maize farms in the rolling foothills of the Himalaya, fields of potatoes in Peru, cattle ranches in Argentina, acres of vineyards in France. One of my most memorable expeditions was to climb Alpamayo in Peru. At the end of our expedition, we returned to the city of Huaraz where our expedition cook, Alfredo, a farmer by trade, introduced us to his family and we feasted on an elaborate dinner of potato, lamb and vegetables. Thinking back to our own vegetable garden growing up on our family farm, I could relate to the pride that Alfredo and his wife had in sharing their home-cooked meal.  Even through I was sat in a foreign country, trying to communicate in a language so distant from my own with people Id met only days previous, I felt so close to home.

I remember studying the photographs taken by early explorers of mountains like Everest in geography classes at Ridgetown District High School. I never thought Id see these places firsthand - they seemed part of another world, the realm of those who write text books. Before I knew it I found myself saying yes to opportunity after opportunity and travelling to some of these far-flung places. Standing on the summit of Mount Lhotse in the Spring of 2013, in the shadow of Mount Everest at nearly 28,000 feet, I couldnt help but think back to those faded geography text books and wonder how life had come full circle. That faded photograph in a text book was now in living colour.

Many people ask, Whats next?. I spent this past year focusing on sharing my passion for the mountains with others. I led a team to climb the highest mountain in Africa, Kilimanjaro, raising nearly $50,000 for charity, Wellbeing of Women, which funds research into the health of women and babies. I traveled to Peru to climb Alpamayo and then to the Islamic Republic of Iran to climb Mount Damavand. In 2015 I hope to raise even more money for charity and return to the Himalayas.

Even though the memory of The Ridgetown Hill is a distant one, the lessons learned through my upbringing - the importance of community, of people, of respect for each other and the environment - shape my perspective of the world, and make me who I am today.


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