Motherhood is like climbing a mountain. At least, that’s what Sophie Helenek thinks. “You have ups and downs. You have sleep deprivation. You really have your doubts,” says this Haddam mom, who became the youngest French woman to reach the summit of Mount Everest in 2008. “You feel you’re touching the sky, you almost think you see other colors. So, all those things are really inspiring.” Now, this former New York City banker and professional climber, a native of a small town outside Paris near Versailles, is embarking on a new adventure as a children’s book author, with her thirteen-month-old daughter, Gabrielle, by her side.
“When she was really, really young, I showed her the M.C. Escher book,” says Helenek, explaining that her daughter was more drawn to the Dutch artist’s graphic images than the illustrations in a typical baby book. “I tried to understand what was appealing.” After research, she learned that babies are near-sighted at birth and respond to bold pictures. So, she created a series of four board books, with high-contrast patterns, dedicated to growth milestones: Fruits, Sky Wonders, Shapes and Musical Instruments. Helenek considers reading to be an activity, not just a bedtime tradition: “It is really about putting books amongst all of the toys and then just being playful.”
Helenek’s husband, John, the first Connecticut man to scale Everest in 1993, is supportive of her latest endeavor, the “My First Book” series, found at http://www.nurserybooks.net. They met in Pakistan on a climb and and started an “alpinist’s life” together. Then, Helenek found out she was pregnant with Gabrielle. “She came, really, like a surprise and I really embraced it from Day One,” she says, giving her daughter a snuggle. “Surprises can really turn outstanding.” With a doctor’s consultation, moderation and caution, Helenek continued her active lifestyle during pregnancy, kayaking, walking and even climbing Mount Washington with ski poles in hand, to avoid any falls. “It was good for me,” says Helenek, who has also competed in tennis, judo and fencing. “I’m an athlete initially. It really helped me to know where I stand, how I feel.” She hopes to encourage women to remain fit during all nine months.
Watch an extended interview with Sophie Helenek from the FOX CT Morning Extra.
Good days, bad days, challenges and hurdles. Comparing parenting to climbing helps this “Mountaineer Mom” through the most confusing times. “You really see the world upside down,” she says, of her many journeys to extremely high elevations. “I got the opportunity to see the world from above and it’s actually really, really unbelievable.” Her experiences taught her about resilience, as well as appreciation of beauty and the ability to react to difficult situations. She uses these skills in far away places and, here at home, with Gabrielle. “We’re going to discover and re-learn things together,” smiles Helenek, holding her book. “She’s my new Everest. She’s our new Everest.”