The library where I work recently invited climber and author Isabel Suppé to come speak about her near-death experience when, while climbing in the Andes, she and her partner plunged 1100 feet down a mountain. Unfortunately, nobody showed up; I felt awful about that. The silver lining, though, was that I got a chance to talk to her one-on-one for almost an hour. Rarely in my life have I met such an amazing person, so I’d like to share her story with everyone I can. I wrote the following article for the local paper and the library blog, but I’d like to publish it here as well so that as many people as possible can draw inspiration from her. Here it is:
CLIMBER AND AUTHOR ISABEL SUPPÉ VISITS THE AUGUSTA PUBLIC LIBRARY
No one adjective can capture the spirit of climber and author Isabel Suppé, although “courageous,” “indomitable” and “inspirational” are among those that could try. On October 23, Suppé visited the Augusta Public Library to share her amazing story of survival.
Suppé had been climbing in the Andes when the partner to whom she was roped slipped, sending both of them plunging 1100 feet. Despite her severe injuries, Suppé was determined to live, and she spent two days crawling across a glacier. “I decide to continue,” she wrote. “To keep on dragging myself over the ice, maybe for nothing. At least not to die without having fought to the last; to have a chance, as tiny as it may be, to live.”
Suppé was finally rescued, but her struggles weren’t over. One foot was shattered, requiring her to endure multiple surgeries. Even so, her spirit was strong as ever; early in her convalescence, she jerry-rigged a wheelchair that would keep her foot elevated so she could escape from her hospital room and sleep on the roof. “I couldn’t stand it in there,” she explained. “The hospital smelled like death.”
Most people with injuries as severe as Suppé’s would never climb again, but within months, she was scaling mountains on crutches she’d designed herself. She also took up bicycling upon a doctor’s recommendation, although the doctor probably couldn’t have foreseen how seriously she’s taken that advice. She borrowed her grandmother’s bicycle and, in her words, “baptized it Rocinante after the famous horse Don Quixote rode during his crusade against the impossible.”
Riding Rocinante, Suppé bicycled from the German-Swiss border to northern Spain, where she had an experimental but unsuccessful surgery. Undaunted, she impulsively bought a ferry ticket to Morocco and, joined by her brother, bicycled across the Atlas Mountains.
Bicycling may seem an odd way to travel for a woman with an injured foot, but she has good reasons for her choice. “Traveling on a bike, you’re not surrounded by a metal shell, so you’re more approachable,” she said. “Being forced to touch the ground connects you to a place in a different way. And I’m still not finished. I climbed Mount Rainier on crutches, and now I’m in the process of crossing the U.S. by bike so as to raise awareness for the life-saving cause of organ transplantation.”
Although Suppé was born and raised in Munich, Germany, she’s truly a citizen of the world. She speaks six languages and, during her journeys, she’s met hundreds of people. She’s currently working on a book about her travels, and she has plenty of material to work with. “You find a huge collection of characters in the United States,” she observed.
While Suppé’s fans will have to wait awhile longer for her travel memoir, they can already read Starry Night, the award-winning book she wrote about her ordeal and recovery process. She originally wrote the book in Spanish, but she’s translated it into English in order to spread her inspirational message to a broader audience. “What I do know for sure,” she wrote, “are the following: That having a physical problem does not mean that we cannot do something. It simply means that we have to try harder. That dreams and hope are the most precious things we own. That almost nothing is impossible as long as we dare to dream.”
Anyone interested in learning more about Suppé or purchasing Starry Night can visit her website, http://www.isabelsuppe.com.