Getulio Felipe Fernandes II. First, it was a name, then it held a story of hope, but what was to come no one could have predicted. Getulio was born 14 years ago with cerebral palsy, condition doctors told the family would leave him paralyzed for life. At the age of four, he was advised to start using a wheelchair, which he refused. He told the world he was going to learn to walk. Age 5, nothing. Age 6, nothing. Age 7, Getulio took his first steps. This in itself was an achievement no one saw possible, but in his own words, “the impossible does not exist”. His sheer determination has inspired people around the world, giving people hope when they had lost it. I had seen movies about him, which talk about his life and the incredible achievements he has already made, but nothing could prepare me for what was to come.
On the 17th of April 2019, we drove from Chamonix to Milan to meet the Lyfx team at the airport. Getulio was arriving that evening and we would then all drive to La Villa in the Dolomites together. The dream was to climb Punta Penia on Marmolada, the highest point in the Dolomites. When Pedro McCardell asked us if we wanted to be a part of the team, we instantly thought we must meet this kid. I have grown up in the mountains and I knew there was a lot of snow for this time of the year so I thought that climbing wouldn’t actually be possible. Even for a fit, non-disabled person, it would be tough. However, to share the mountains with him would be enough.
The first time we met Getulio, we saw him in the distance with a large trolley full of luggage, pushing it himself while dragging his feet along in a laboured way. I thought, why was no one helping him? Over the coming week, this would be answered. Immediately, the young man introduced himself with such confidence and sincerity, our hearts melted. The videos were all true! He thanked everyone from the bottom of his heart for the opportunity and with such belief, we all had a tear in our eye. It didn’t matter to us if he climbed the mountain; he was already a success.
We arrived at La Villa late, past midnight, which left everyone exhausted. The group, who were primarily from Brazil, we’re still running 5 hours behind and having not slept on the flight, were all feeling exhausted. But the weather was pushing for something else. We had a 10-day window of opportunity to climb, but the only weather window was going to come over the following few days. If we didn’t act now, we were to be met with weeks of rain.
Getulio was quickly equipped and taken up the hill for a test run and learn about all the equipment. This is not your everyday walk up a hill; climbing Marmolada involves crossing a glacier with huge crevasses and then a steep climb requiring ropes, crampons, and ice axes. Just to add to the difficulty, there was a deep snowpack making walking almost impossible and icy snow covering the cables that were supposed to assist with the climb. To try and help with walking in the deep snow, they wore snowshoes (a large plastic platform to keep you from sinking into the snow), which turned out to be impossible to use for someone who can’t lift their feet. In one hour, Getulio made it 50m. If he were to make the summit, he would have to walk at this pace for 40 hours, and the climb only got more difficult. We all thought it was impossible.
Deflated, we all tried to hide our emotions from Getulio. He was determined to try so we would go ahead with the plan, but we were all mentally preparing for the worst. As a group, we took the old lift up to Piano Dei Fiacconi Refuge where we would spend the night before making an attempt the following day. We were all familiar with the intended route, but still, it did not prepare us for reality. Arriving at the hut, an endless white snowfield stretched up to the glacier, much longer and steeper than it looked on the photos, followed by a cliff where they were supposed to climb. How could a boy, who can’t lift his feet, possibly make it up this mountain? I started to feel overwhelming dread and wondered why we had even chosen this route. That night we saw a sombre Getulio. I think the reality of what he was trying to achieve, weighed hard on him. Many discussions were had for escape routes and helicopter pick-ups. We wanted so much for him to succeed, but how could this ever happen? He had taken 1 hour to walk 50 meters on low angle snow and here we were faced with much steeper terrain and a 700m-elevation gain taking him to 3,343m!
At 4 am, some of us awoke. Kept awake by the anticipation of the day. At 5.30, Getulio and Pedro came into the dining hall with the guides so they could begin at first light, hoping the night had brought a harder snowpack. Getulio’s face was distant, possibly lost in concentration. We all walked him out with hope in our hearts. Pedro would work as a three with the guide Alessio Nardellotto and Getulio while two others worked as a separate backup team. With pure determination and few words, Getulio set off, one step at a time, quickly disappearing out of sight. The remainder of the group went back in to contemplate the day. We were to hike up the west ridge as not to interfere with their mission and try to film the attempt. We set off an hour later not expecting them to be far and hopefully shoot the approach to the glacier. But we couldn’t find them. We went higher up the ridge where we were almost level with the Via Ferrata, and there they were, only a 100m below! None of us could believe our eyes! Even to reach this point was an incredible achievement and we thought if he could reach the Via Ferrata, that would be enough. Talking on the radio, they sounded exhausted, including Pedro. We could only imagine what Getulio was going through. The guides had already suggested going back a few times.
At 11 am, they reached the bottom of the Via Ferrata, the cut-off time to continue. He had proven us all wrong. The speed in which he had walked up there and the sheer determination shown was mind-blowing. The guides then tried to tell Getulio that they had to go down. The snow was soft, and the next part was 100m straight up the cliff. But Getulio refused! “No! We go up!”. Hearing this on the radio sent everyone screaming with joy! Even writing this now brings tears to my eyes. The trio, tied together with a rope and equipped with crampons and ice axes, set up the face.
With hearts racing, we all searched for them to reappear. We still all wondered how he could possibly climb a cliff when he can’t lift his feet. To climb in this style is difficult for anybody, let alone Getulio. This kind of climbing would be the equivalent of a non-disabled person climbing Mount Everest without oxygen. The radio was silent and minutes turned into hours. Even if they made it up the steep section, there was another couple of hours hiking in deep snow to the summit. He would be exhausted from the climb. How would he find the energy to reach the summit? Maybe they could carry him for the remainder and give him the summit experience? Suddenly the radio buzzed into life. Not only had they passed the climb, but they were also 15 minutes from the summit! One step at a time, Getulio pushed on. Four times the guides suggested going back and they could call for the helicopter, but Getulio demanded that they continue and here they were, moments from reaching the highest point of the Dolomites! We were in tears and filled with joy! On April 21st, 9 hours after departure, HE had done the impossible. WE were all wrong!
Seconds later we saw the helicopter swoop in and pick the team up from the summit. We all raced to the bottom to meet them. At the bottom, we were met with an exhausted Getulio and Pedro (though we all think Pedro was more tired), overwhelmed with what they had achieved. Only now did it sink in and Getulio hugged Pedro and cried. He cried tears of joy, tears of exhaustion and tears for the love and belief Pedro had shown in him. We all thought this was as good as it gets, being taught that the impossible is in fact, possible.
But it got even better. Getulio then taught us an even more incredible lesson. Emotions were high and thanks were being shared between all involved and then Getulio managed to find even more to give. Not physically but part of his heart. As a gift, he gave a signed flag from his favorite soccer team to the guides, getting all involved to write on it, a gift that meant everything to Getulio. As if this wasn’t enough, the boots that he had been given to climb the mountain, he gave to the guides so that other people may have the opportunity that he had. Getulio had only an old pair of shoes himself, and these boots could have lasted him a lifetime, but he thought it more important to share and give the opportunity to others. He said, it’s not about him, it’s about giving to others, to inspire and to create opportunity.
I walk away from this experience, as do the others, a rich person, not from money or possessions, but a lesson learned in life. To give is everything and to inspire others to do the same is priceless. When you die, it’s not the shoes you wore or the car you drove that matters, it’s what you did with your life. Did you live your life to the fullest? Did you inspire others to be a better person? Did you give all that you could? Getulio has shown us that the impossible IS possible!