A Conquest of Self
It took an intense exercise regime, discipline, mental strength and tons of willpower for Gabrielle Tan-helfman to change her ‘unfit’ lifestyle in order to reach the Everest Base Camp. Here, she recounts her extraordinary journey
Gabrielle Tan-helfman shares her remarkable journey of reaching the Everest Base Camp
Iwas never a fit person. I never believed in exercise and I would pretend I didn’t know what the word ‘gym’ was. As I grew older, I realised my health was going ‘downhill’, from my lowering metabolic rate to gaining weight faster. Yet it still it took me a while before I begrudgingly told myself I needed to exercise. Three years ago, I read this article about these two fitness gurus named Karena Dawn and Katrina Scott who were taking the Internet by storm. They were pioneering a movement known as Tone It Up— publishing workouts and nutrition plans online for you to follow. It was all about eating healthy and staying fit, and I wanted to do that. That was how my fitness journey began. I would do a workout at least once a day, seven days a week, from cardio to toning to outdoor activities. I even cooked my own meals. The hardest part of getting fit is always starting, and the second hardest part is continuing your regime. I realised, after joining the Tone It Up community, my stamina was getting better and I enjoyed exercising outdoors, especially hiking. Which was where it all started. That was when I realised I needed motivation—something to push me outside of my comfort zone. My husband Mike and I did a short trek through Annapurna before we got married,
and at that time, I was very unfit, but somehow I still made it. He then said that he wanted to try Everest Base Camp (EBC) one day, and I told him to go with his friends because I wasn’t going to do it. However, after starting the fitness regime, I saw EBC differently. Maybe, I could do it after all. Last year, sometime in May, I decided not to procrastinate anymore and go for it. I thought to myself, if not now, then when? That was all it took for me to make up my mind. We found a few friends and we confirmed the trek. That’s when I started training for it. There were no excuses, I had a goal that I needed to keep working out for. I trained myself and sort of tailored workouts for myself. Of course, no one needs to train for a year. If you give yourself three to five months, it should be fine. While the physical training for the trek was intense, it was mental strength that helped me through the climb. I would advise potential trekkers to be prepared, that the journey will push you to your limits physically, emotionally and mentally. The trek to EBC can be long and strenuous, sometimes climbing uphill for one and a half to two hours straight. Sometimes during the climb, I would see helicopters flying in and out, evacuating people, especially those who were suffering from altitude sickness. The high altitudes are also a huge deterrent, you can be the fittest person and still get altitude sickness. It is not a joke when the sickness hits. Especially the closer you get to base camp, the thinner the air feels. I think being mentally positive also helped me in getting to base camp and back. I started suffering from altitude sickness at about 4,200m, having headaches, feeling nauseated and vomiting. That evening, I couldn’t even get out of bed. During the night, I told myself I had to get well and couldn’t let this stop me from reaching base camp. Somehow, the next morning, I was feeling fine, and soldiered on. I cannot describe the feeling of finally arriving at Everest Base Camp. I cried, no, I bawled. I spent the whole trek up the mountain entirely focused on the journey that when I reached the destination, it hit me, what I have achieved. It felt surreal. To me, it was not just an item to tick off my bucket list. It was so much more than that—it was a transformative experience. I don’t think anything else can top that.”
"It was not just an item to tick off my bucket list"
TRIAL OF STRENGTH Opposite page: Gabrielle and her husband Michael Helfman; Gabrielle overcame her fears during the climb, coming out of it a different woman