For as long as we can remember, mankind has gone above and beyond in order to defy the limits of what was thought possible. Men have sailed on open waters to unknown lands, climbed the world’s tallest mountain and ventured into space to explore the marvels of the cosmos. But what if I told you that this thrill for adventure is not only a man’s ambition, but a disabled woman’s one, too?
This is the case of Marcela Marañon, a disabled Latina from Peru who took the world by storm when she climbed to the top of Mount Kilimanjaro, one of the tallest mountains on Earth. But who is this woman and what is her life story?
Where Her Second Life Began
Born in Peru, Marañon packed her bags and left her country in 2001 to live the American dream in Dallas, Texas where she would study English. Just one year later, when she turned 21 years old, she was involved in a major car accident that left her with a spinal cord injury and suffered the amputation of her left leg. This tragic event was a huge turning point in her life.
Being paralyzed from the waist down made her question herself and her situation, but was able to find a silver lining.
“I had moments of grieving and moments of thinking, ‘I don’t know what I’m going to do with my life,” Marañon said in an online interview.
“I didn’t like how I looked in the mirror. I had all those negative thoughts. The way I overcame them was by taking it day by day, setting goals and thinking that I am valuable and beautiful the way I am. So, I’ve trained my mind to do that. That’s how I live my life. I do my best with what I have.
Thanks to her positive attitude, she found comfort in several sports, such as cycling, skiing, kayaking and even ziplining! All of these activities were possible thanks to the use of adapted equipment that would help her move at ease. Looking back, Marañon believes the accident sparked off something positive because it gave her the resilience to not let her situation define her and set out to live life to its fullest.
Preparation For The Climb
It was quite clear that Marañon had a vivacious personality and that she wouldn’t sit idly by as her best years slipped away.
“I am a woman that tries out everything,” she claimed during an interview with ESPN published on People En Español.
“If you tell me ‘Marcela let’s go jumping off a mountain,’ I will go and do it right there and then,” Marañon said.
Her attitude towards life naturally led her to break the ultimate challenge to climb one of the tallest mountains in the world. Located in the northeast of Tanzania, Mount Kilimanjaro has a total height of 19,341 feet ―A feat not for the faint of heart, that’s for sure. But Marañon was on a mission to change the mentality people often have or stereotypes about people with disabilities, especially women.
“They look at a woman in a wheelchair and think that we can’t be a wife or have children,” Marañon said to an online news site.
“They see our medical devices ―our wheelchairs or our canes― as a problem. But the reality is, this medical equipment helps us have more freedom and independence. It’s something positive.”
After undergoing a strict physical training program, she set off to a seven-day quest on Mount Kilimanjaro. Thanks to a special chair designed to push her on top of the rocks, the guides made it possible for Marcela to climb to the top.
“In the beginning, I wanted to die, I thought ‘I’m going to kill myself,’” said Marañon to ESPN. “I would pray to God the whole time. It was scary sometimes. It’s so high up that it’s terrifying, but when I arrived at the top I couldn’t believe it.”
On November 9 2020, she reached the top of Mount Kilimanjaro and became one of the 10 disabled people to do so and she is the only Latina to date.
Marcela’s Disability Activism
Marañon believes that sharing one’s life struggles is a way of making us stronger, especially with people who live their lives facing the same obstacles. That’s why she dedicated her life to demystifying disabilities and to advocate for those who are haunted by stigma and misconceptions. But not only does she lead by example, but also by community building and fundraising.
When she was in Tanzania, she created a project called House of Hope, that seeks to give local children a real chance in life like the one she was privileged to have back in the U.S. This program works with 80 children with physical disabilities who need medical care after their surgeries. Marañon provides them with a home to dream and thrive, and offers them an educational program where they can learn about their disabilities.
Marcela Marañon has found her purpose in the world, and she believes anyone can.