Do you know many women who have excelled in more than one discipline and yet are not good at all?
We tend to think that we all have a special talent and that we can't be good at everything.
Ella Maillart proves us wrong.
Born in 1903 in Geneva, Switzerland, she grew up surrounded by lakes and mountains. School was not her thing (not at all). Ella dreamed of adventure, freedom and above all not of a tidy life (serving her husband or taking care of the house and raising her children). That was out of the question for her.
She found this freedom in sport.
Every Sunday as a child, her mother took her skiing (not a common practice at the time of the First World War).
But it was hard to resist the call of the water when you live on the shores of Lake Geneva.
She also tried sailing and learned to sail at the age of 10, accompanied by her great childhood friend, Hermine de Saussure (who called herself "Miette").
For Ella, it was skiing in winter and sailing in summer.
But it was sailing that soon became her greatest passion. For her, there is something magical and energizing about water.
She achieved her first exploits at a very young age.
At 13, she won her first regattas.
At 16, she founded the first women's land hockey club in French-speaking Switzerland (another discipline in which she excelled).
At the age of 21, she participated in the Olympic Games in Paris, alone on her sailboat. She was the only woman in the event, and also the youngest. She finished ninth out of seventeen (not bad for a first participation).
And at the age of 27, she participated in the World Skiing Championships, defending the Swiss colours for four consecutive years. All these sports were usually reserved for men, but she doesn't care. And believe it or not, she was diagnosed with poor health as a child...
Redoubling her efforts and strengthening her metabolism through sport was her answer to doctors who might have discouraged many.
Ella Maillart is living proof that anything is possible if you give yourself the means.
We all have unsuspected abilities, but we often let ourselves be influenced by what others think.
Ella lives her life as she wishes, going against all odds and prejudices.
Ella and her best friend, nicknamed "Miette", even have a crazy dream: to cross the Atlantic to French Polynesia in their tuna boat, which they have named "Atalante".
Unfortunately, Miette became seriously ill and the project never saw the light of day (Ella was deprived of her captain).
Miette ended up getting married and having a daughter, putting a definitive end to Ella's dream.
This was a huge blow and for several years she worked in a variety of jobs:
- model for a sculptor in Paris
- actress at the drama studio in Geneva
- French teacher in Wales
- sports understudy in mountain films in Berlin
- actress in a ski film shot in Mürren, Switzerland...
...and captain of the Swiss women's hockey team.
Is it humanly possible to live so many lives?
At that time, and after doing so many different things, Ella was completely lost.
Everything she read or saw depressed her.
It was during a stay in Berlin that she met some Russian émigrés who offered her to do some reports: one on Russian youth and another on Soviet cinema.
She jumps on a train to Moscow and that's where her second life begins...
Ella's new life?
Writing so she could travel. She was to become a reporter.
After a short stay in Russia, she felt the need to go further afield, to discover the great outdoors.
And when Ella thinks big, I assure you it's big.
Without ever leaving her famous Leica, she set off to explore the mountains of Central Asia, on foot, by train, bus, truck, car, horse or camel, in search of serenity and inner peace.
No more and no less, she will become...
...the first woman to walk the Russian Caucasus,
...the first woman sports writer to become a special envoy to Manchuria (China),
...the first woman adventurer to travel alone through Soviet Turkestan and to cross China and Central Asia as a duo, and...
...the first woman traveller to reach Kabul with another woman in a 1930s Ford convertible.
Frankly, one can only have admiration for such a force of nature.
Her misadventures and the risks she took to produce her articles show the extent of her courage and determination.
While Europe was going through the Second World War, Ella withdrew to India in search of inner "truth".
After the war she returned to Switzerland and settled in Chandolin, one of the highest villages in Europe, inhabited all year round.
A choice destination for those seeking calm, sunshine and renewal at an altitude of 2000 metres. It is here that she will build her own chalet and thus have, for the first time, at the age of 45, a house all to herself.
But Ella was restless and took advantage of a unique and historic opportunity to escape again...
In 1951, as Nepal opened its borders to tourists, Ella obtained exceptional permission to enter the last independent kingdom in the Himalayas. A still unknown country that had everything to fascinate her.
For thirty years, until she was 84, she organised cultural trips, taking small groups of tourists to many Asian countries, wherever there was still room for discovery.
Thanks to her numerous stories and photographs, she will contribute to the knowledge of a world that has now disappeared.
For me, Ella is living proof that we can all succeed (and excel) in any field as long as we give ourselves the means and do it with our hearts.
A multi-talented sportswoman, a humble adventurer, a writer full of doubts and a modest photographer, she writes without ever dwelling on her difficulties or her prowess as an explorer.
A free woman with an extraordinary destiny.