Stéphanie Gicquel inspires us! Amazing woman adventurer and athlete, she has just finished the World Marathon Challenge, corresponding to 7 marathons in 7 days on each of the 7 continents! Incredible, right?!!!
From the Novo base in Antarctica to Miami in the United States, via Madrid in Spain, it has covered 295 km, facing huge temperature variations and extreme conditions.
Graduates from HEC, she was lawyer before devoting herself completely to her life as an adventurer and extraordinary woman athlete. She is among the few who have walked both the South Pole and the North Pole, and shares her experiences all over the world and shows us the way to boldness and surpassing oneself! We love it!
So when she chooses as the title for her book "We are all born adventurers" (published by Ramsay), we want to believe in it!
We have always seen men explore the world a lot, but women are also adventurers! Like Stephanie, a Role Model that we like to see and show to our children! What if your daughter were to become an adventurer and explorer one day?!
We are so happy and lucky to have shared this discussion with her !
How would you describe your activity? Adventurer? Explorer? Extreme athlete? all at once?
All this at once, actually! Athlete, explorer and adventurer, but also author and entrepreneur! I like the term adventurer, with a sense of "passion for change". For me, exploration is really about going into the field. There can be sports, scientific, or photographic exploration, all kinds of explorations in fact, with the idea of always going into the field.
Adventurer, brings together all my current activities well, it is the fact of changing, of passing from one thing to another, of going out of my comfort zone. That's why I like to say that I am an "adventurer of change", an expression that includes all these activities: Athlete, (*Stéphanie is part of the 24-hour French team), and also entrepreneur, lecturer and author. When you are in the world of exploration, you necessarily have several activities at the same time: giving conferences, raising funds, participating in advertisements, writing books, making films. Finally we are multitasking, and that's what's interesting too!
Why did you choose this path? Was there a specific reason?
In fact, there was no "click". It is true that often we have the impression that there is a life accident, or something special that makes us realize that life is short and that we should do what we really want. That's not what I experienced, in fact I've always wanted to travel since I was a little girl and I didn't travel when I was young. Things came together in a fairly natural way. That is, when I was in school I started travelling, then I continued when I was a lawyer and then travelling, and exploring became more important than the activity I was in. But all this was done in a very smooth and natural way. It was also encounters with explorers, reading books. I began to make a first trip, then another one and then set myself higher goals. It is the same today in top-level sport. We reach one objective and we say to ourselves, we will reach another... But all this was done in a natural way, it's not an accident of life, it's really a "path", I like a lot this word. I speak a lot about this idea of “change”, and often it is expected to be a radical change in life. For me it's more of a journey. The woman I am today is a result from who I was in school, in the lawyer’s world and or in entrepreneurship. The athlete I am today is also who she is because there were all these roads. So no "click" but a passion for travel since I was a little girl, and as I didn't get this opportunity to travel then, I gradually went towards this dream. When I am in a competition, for example, I am far from travelling and yet I also enjoy it very much. What’s important to me, is taking the first step, trying something new and realizing if you're good or not and if you like it or not - I could never have imagined that I loved the Ultramarathon and that I loved competition if I hadn't tried. It’s all about finding your own way by taking small steps out of your comfort zone.
Did you have role models (female or not!) when you were a child?
No, actually, I've always been very curious and my models in fact all the people I meet.
I try to be inspired by all kind of ways and especially when I love it when people evolve in an environment that is not mine at all, I ask myself a lot of questions, I am very curious, I like to know how they are doing it, how they could solve this or that problem, I fell I can learn a lot from these experiences. There is no particular person. And when I was a little girl it was the same way. The inspiration was daily, first through my family, then through the teachers, or any inspiring people I met,...
What were your favorite games and activities when you were a child?
I loved roller-skating a lot!, I did a lot of it !
It was very different from running, it was actually more technical.
I also really liked gym, marbles and played a lot of football too!
I also loved dancing to all kinds of music.
In your journey have you ever felt that being a girl/woman was a drag or was simply considered as original/atypical? And if so, what did you think at that time, what made you move forward?
When exploring, being a man or a woman does not change the fact that we are facing the elements in extreme situations in the same way. We can find ourselves in the middle of an expedition, like when I was in Antarctica, I had 50° C. for about ten days, absolutely extreme situations of lack of food, we walked 70 hours a week, we were extremely weakened... And whether we were a man or a woman in the end, it's the same thing, the elements are stronger than us anyway.
It is true that there is a very strong representation, which comes from the past I think, that it is a man who explores the world, a man who explores in a "sporting" way, who crosses continents, who crosses on cross-country skis, by pulling sleds etc. It is a very strong representation of man. It is true that when you are a woman, what is a little more complicated is to set up the project, to find teammates or to seek funding or simply to be taken seriously. We can simply tell you "but you won't be able to do it..." We hear "it's impossible" much more than a man. Again, it's a story of models. By showing a tall and strong man on this type of expedition, you can't imagine that a woman can do it too. And so it may seem original, atypical. The brake is therefore put on the project set-up, it takes more time to raise funds and to convince. And at the same time it actually makes us even stronger. When you are not expected, you become strong. We also develop a form of perseverance that is absolutely extraordinary, and I think it also comes from these obstacles. I'm trying to see it as something positive and to draw strength from it.
What is a typical day in your life?
Actually, there is no such thing as a typical day in my life !
Either I am on an expedition, in which case we are in a tent, we get up, we have to walk 8 to 12h a day, we eat freeze-dried food, so a fairly intense effort!
Either we are preparing an expedition, in which case we spend a lot of time looking for information, maps, means, organization. We'll raise funds to communicate, create a website, a blog. And when you're close to an expedition, everything speeds up.
When you're away from an expedition it's different.
At the moment I am preparing for the World Championships of Athletics which will take place in October: there is a lot of training with various schedules - some weeks I train from 10hours to 30. The typical week is more like 20 hours training. Depending on the training phase we're in.
Training take place usually in the morning, at noon and at the end of the day.
The rest of the time I participate in conferences, I prepare videos for partners, I answer interviews, I prepare workshops for companies in team building seminars. There is a large part of entrepreneurial activity, consulting.
There is also a large part to read, to do research and in particular research for funding, meetings, networking
What do you like most and least about your activity?
What I prefer : Sport and travel whether in exploration or competition. This is the practice, the fact of travelling in the context of exploration but also of competition. There is f travel in all phases. I love to be hand to hand with nature, for the purpose of competition. In the Ultramarathon we train outside, outside the traditional grounds. At the INSEP (French Sport Institute) they also have equipment to train in a thermal chamber to prepare for extreme and specific conditions. We also took a lot of data. This is also part of my activities for researchers to work on the impact of extreme conditions on the body.
More and more explorers and athletes provide data like this.
I also like to share, inspire and love the energy that is transmitted in front of an audience.
What I don’t like : all administrative aspects that takes a huge amount of time over the essentials.
What advice would you give to kids who are afraid of failure, or sometimes think that their dreams are not accessible?
Take the first step and also realize that failure can have many virtues.
For example: when you do not achieve the goal you set for yourself in a race (time, podium, retirement...) You generally know where failure comes from. We must not be afraid of it, we must understand it. And there is always a reason (hydration, feeding, refuelling, training too late or too intensive...) there is always a reason for failure - and these are all reasons to be certain that one day we will reach the goal. It doesn't matter to be wrong, it allows you to know yourself, you learn in failure. There's a reason for failure, and if we fix it, it works. It also creates a form of perseverance. When you know that there is potential, you come back to it and you have to see failure as a strength.
How do you maintain your strength and positivity with all these challenges? Do you have a habit, a ritual?
We have a very strong desire, but to achieve our goal we need discipline. I have a plan and I have to stick to it, even on days when I don't feel like it. When you have a 10-minute break, it's 10 minutes, not 8, not 12... On expeditions or in training this discipline is essential.
Also, visualization helps me a lot. Visualizing that on the way to the objectives there will be obstacles, that I will be led to run in the rain, during the night, there will be moments when I will have less motivation, moments of trouble. Visualizing it in advance makes it possible to overcome the obstacle, to never endure. This is very important, not to forget we are on paths we wanted.
In your opinion, what is missing for girls to be inspired and grow up thinking they can do everything? what could we change/improve?
In fact, what we can do is basically what you are doing with Pourquoi Princesse : show female Role Models, no longer associate a sport or activity with a gender. Make women in these activities more visible to girls.
In exploration show girls as much as men, especially when they do exactly the same things!
What advice or motto could you give for girls who need to face obstacles and who sometimes think they can't?
"The only limit to our objectives is the one we set for ourselves" (in Stéphanie Gicquel's great book "On naît tous aventuriers" published by Ramsay Edigroup).
If you enjoyed this interview, share it! The more these women of exceptions will be visible, and their stories told to our children, the more we will progress towards equality and contribute to expand their field of possibilities!
Murielle Sitruk is Co-Founder of Pourquoi Princesse. A mother of two determined and bold daughters, she grew up in Marseille and lives in Paris with her family.