Working behind a desk for the rest of her life just wasn’t an option for Masha Gordon. Without a background in athletics, Gordon wasn’t sure where to start, but found her stride exploring difficult terrain and reaching the summit of picturesque locations most only dream about.
What started as a casual interest in exploring turned into a legitimate athletic career in completing some of the most difficult treks, like reaching the North and South Poles.
“It gives you a sense of adventure, but also a sense of incredible achievement,” said Gordon, “You don’t need to climb Everest to feel achievement [she would know, since she actually has climbed Everest]. It was transformative,”
Gordon has been all over the world, but she most recently completed the “Explorer’s Grand Slam,” where she summited the North and South Poles and seven other peaks, all in a record-breaking seven months and 19 days. That’s the fastest a woman has ever completed the challenge and something only 50 people have done in total.
“For someone who was not very sporty, the important thing for me was to do a fun thing, an adventurous thing,” said Gordon. “Clearly, I was very dedicated to it, but the dedication was not seeing it as exercise but seeing it as ‘Wow, we’re going to go spend a night in the refuge and wake up at two in the morning and trek through the snow and reach the summit the next morning,’”
Gordon worked her way up in business, eventually taking a job in asset management for Goldman Sachs, but a desire for adventure always loomed over her.
“I wasn’t very athletic growing up, I actually failed P.E.,” said Gordon, “But in my mid-thirties, when I was about 35, on my second maternity leave, I went to Champagny in France. Someone suggested a climb…and I loved it,”
Staying motivated on long journeys was key for Gordon. She found inspiration from her children, who wrote messages on her gear. From colorful drawings on her hat to quotes inscribed on her boots, reading and seeing bits of life at home kept her going.
“On my recent Denali climb, I partnered with Sharpie Extreme and my kids wrote amazing messages on my boots,” said Gordon, “Climbing up and seeing my daughter’s writing, ‘I love you mommy because you’re strong’ ... having those messages from people who love you matters a lot,”
Her climbs are never easy. Gordon has run into several challenges along the way, like running out of food, crossing paths with polar bears, or even breaking her wrist while two months into completing the Explorer’s Grand Slam.
Gordon said she was mid-trek in Italy when she reached onto a branch for support. The branch buckled and Gordon fell, fracturing her wrist. She was taken to a nearby Italian hospital to be treated, but ended up having to remove her cast two weeks early so she could move onto her next destination.
“I wasn’t in pain,” said Gordon, “I was thinking ‘What the hell am I going to do? What’s my next climb?’ It was a walk to 24,000 feet. I thought ‘Well, I can do it,’”
Challenges like these are the norm for Gordon, who said the more stress she experiences, the better she is at handling it as her climbs get tougher and more demanding.
“Subjecting yourself to this type of training and experience actually makes you calmer,” said Gordon, “Any problem has a solution and if you can remain optimistic, you’re gonna find that solution,”
In stature alone, you wouldn’t guess that Gordon looks forward to nothing more than a big, juicy burger when she’s home from her journeys. In her time off, she savors moments with her family, and luxuries like fresh fruits, meat, and vegetables that she can’t have while on her journeys. Hillside, she survives on freeze-dried food, or “astronaut food” as she called it.
So what’s next? Costa Rica, said Gordon, where she and her two children will adventure together. “They’re at that age finally where we can do some of these things together,” said Gordon.
You know, just a regular, run-of-the-mill kayak and walking trip through rainforest and mountainous terrain. Just a bit of normalcy.
The crazy thing is that, for a woman and a family who have already accomplished so much, it just might be.