Geralda and Maiza
She Came Before Me
Interview with Maiza Lima about her mother, Geralda Oliveira, as told to Hailey Hirst
Maiza Lima is an accomplished rock climber and outdoorswoman, but she didn’t grow up experiencing the outdoors as she does now.
Maiza was raised in rural Brazil, and then split her time between there and the U.S. with her mother here and father there. Even after moving to the U.S. she says she was more of a party girl than anything else. “It took me seven, eight years to find out there were hiking trails. I didn’t know they existed.”
Maiza’s mother, Geralda wasn’t an outdoor mentor in the traditional sense, but she is the person who most influenced Maiza’s outdoor life. The things she did for Maiza in order to move her from Brazil permanently to the U.S., and supporting her to follow new outdoor passions – those are the kind of generous gifts that allowed Maiza to have a totally different life than she otherwise could have.
As she says now, “The outdoors fully changed my life.” And now she’s taking her mother out there with her. Even climbing!
Learn more in Maiza’s own words
H: Tell us more about yourself
M: I was born in Brazil and my mom moved here when I was 17 years old. From that point on I was in and out of the country, trying to experience the different culture, but I couldn’t stay here full time so I had to be in and out. My mom has a cleaning business so I’ve been helping her with that. We’ve been doing that together throughout the years.
I started doing outdoor stuff five years ago and it completely changed my entire lifestyle from high heels to climbing boots. I got married three years ago and my husband joined the air force. We were stationed to Montana so I just took some time to do a long road trip and now I’m on this journey of discovering myself and exploring places, doing a solo trip and visiting my mom in Washington.
H: Can you tell me about your mom?
M: Yes. My mom is hard working. She grew up on a farm with seven siblings. They had to wake up every day at 4 to feed all the animals and do a lot of other stuff – hard work labor every single day. She really had it rough. She got married when she was 19. She was looking to change her life, basically. At that point I think she was just looking for ways to get out of there. She worked as a seamstress and supported herself and all three of us [Maiza and her two brothers] and we had a really hard time in Brazil. I didn’t understand then that she just didn’t have enough for us.
At a certain point I think she wanted to give us better… She fought really hard to get here and give us a different life. She’s a warrior to me!
She would take us fishing. She’d take us swimming. That was really fun for us, and you know, when you’re a kid and you don’t know much. We were in the jungle basically in Brazil in the Amazon, so we had enough food we could go gather if we did a little bit of hiking around. That’s basically how we grew up. At a certain point I think she wanted to give us better. She wanted to get my brothers through school and she didn’t want to leave me there. She fought really hard to get here and give us a different life. She’s a warrior to me!
H: She does sound like a warrior! What’s your relationship with her like?
M: We always were very, very close. I remember as a child, if she would leave for like 30 minutes I would be crying. She was a stay-at-home mom, she would sew her clothes at home and do everything for us, and I could never go out anywhere without my mom. We’ve been attached for all this time.
Even here we sleep together and now that we’re moving (our military station is in Montana) it feels like there’s this hole – this gap – you know? This is the first time I’m ever going to be fully apart from my mom and it’s heartbreaking, to be honest. I just want her to know that any time she feels like she wants to move in with us she’s fully welcome. We just love her so much that we want her with us. We’re very close. She does everything for me. Everything. More than I ever deserve.
H: It sounds like you have a really special bond.
M: Yes, we do.
H: So your mom didn’t introduce you to the outdoors as you experience it now, but you say you “got the stoke” from her – tell us more about that.
M: She’s really forward. My mom inspires me in so many ways. She taught me how to be really strong. She taught me how to go out there and get it, right?
There was a certain point in my life where I was really depressed and I felt like I had no friends and I really wanted to do something about it. She said, “You really like hiking and being outside, why don’t you join the mountaineers?” So that’s when I joined them.
We were working together and she would make every single effort to make me get out during the week. We had work and she would say, “No, I’ll cover you.” So there was this hike or there was this climb, and she always made sure that I would go to every single thing. I could not have done it without her, and I tell her that every day. She just helps me so much. People are like, “Don’t you work?” and it’s my mom – she’s covering for me the whole time. She’s so fearless and I really believe I got that from her.
H: With that support from her, how did the outdoors change your life?
M: The outdoors fully changed my life. I wasn’t active in any way before. I feel like I was a spoiled brat, honestly. I loved my high heels and my nails done and I loved drinking and partying. Basically that’s all I liked to do. But I would feel antsy as I got home after that party or whatever – that vague feeling that I didn’t really understand.
After I started hiking I made so many more friends and bonded with them in a different way. I felt rewarded every time we summited something. I just had a reason to do things. I felt healthy, I felt happy. I discovered so many things about myself. I discovered that I’m so strong. Rock climbing has made me feel really strong, and really proud of being strong.
I discovered that I’m so strong. Rock climbing has made me feel really strong, and really proud of being strong.
It’s strength that I never knew I had, and looking at things in a different way. I love telling that to women all the time. Sometimes they don’t believe themselves, don’t believe they’re that strong but we all are. It’s so amazing – I have so much more opportunity being outdoors.
H: What’s it like now for you to share [outdoor] things that you love with her?
M: It’s so much fun taking her to do stuff and teaching her things that I’ve learned long the way. She feels so accomplished after she finishes a hike or a climb. Taking her camping and backpacking, to the beach, all these things, it’s priceless to me.
And it’s so rewarding because right now she’s so proud of me for all the things I have accomplished. I just came out on the cover of Snoqualmie Rock Book and sometimes she thinks I should do other things, but when something like this comes out she is so proud.
H: How did she like climbing?
M: She absolutely loved it. I thought she was going to be really scared, but we’re so similar where we just go for it. We don’t really think about it. She just went for it. She really liked it.
We have plans to keep climbing as I’m here too. I think she got kind of stoked about it, you know. I’m really excited about it. I want to see her doing something sports-wise and having some passion.
H: Are there any lessons that you remember her teaching you growing up? You mentioned inheriting a lot of strength from her.
M: She has taught me so much. We grew up in a very small village and everybody would tell me I would get pregnant at 15 and that I would drop out of high school, because that’s the pattern of the place we grew up. But I feel like my mom, she raised me different. She always taught me that I had to be strong. I knew that I didn’t want that life for myself and I was very, very happy when she took me out of there and showed me different.
H: I know your immigration to the US is a huge story in itself, but can you talk a little about your mom’s decision to move you here?
M:Yeah, she came with a very short visa for work, so I could only stay here for six months at a time because she didn’t want to keep me there [in Brazil]. My father was an alcoholic and he had a really hard time. She didn’t want to leave me with him, so she was trying to keep me here as much as she could. She fought really hard to keep me here full time, but immigration is hard. Things just take forever. She was finally able to get her green card but I was already over 21 years old when she could apply for me to stay here fully, and it would take 8 years for my process. She has done everything but it didn’t work. I finally got married and that’s when things settled, but it was such a long process.
H: Can you speak a little to the cultural differences being outdoors in Brazil versus the U.S.?
M: In Brazil we had to spend most of our time outdoors anyways because that’s how we’d get our food, like fishing was a main source of food. Everything we had to do was outside. Even washing our clothes, we had to hike to the river. Going to any of our family’s homes we had to hike for hours and hours and hours to just get to the farm or whatever. We were always outside doing something. I was in a very small place, I didn’t know very much.
When I moved here and I saw the mountains, it was like “Oh my god! Is that even real?” I couldn’t believe it. It took me seven, eight years to find out there were hiking trails. I didn’t know they existed. I saw the mountains but I didn’t know people could get to the tops of those things. They just looked so intimidating. As soon as I started finding out a little more and a little more, oh you can hike that, or there’s this trail… and then all of a sudden there is this whole community, there’s all these people that do all this stuff. It was such a cultural shock to me, to be honest.
H: What does your mom think about it?
M: She fully supports it. She loves going to REI with me, buying hiking boots. She doesn’t hike very often but she does have gear.
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