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.


SportsXpress.ca is a locally owned and operated magazine publishing and distributing 10,000 copies in over 150 locations six times per year. SportsXpress.ca is all about the community: sports, players, athletes, families, volunteers, coaches, schools and fans. The magazine publishes real life stories about people in Chatham-Kent communities including all ages and skill levels, inviting anyone to submit stories, ideas, comments, articles or photos.

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