Viridiana Álvarez Chávez was 28 when she first started exercising. She was 36 when she broke the Guinness World Record for the fastest ascent of the top three highest mountains with supplementary oxygen (female) in only one year and 364 days.
Chávez completed the trifecta of climbs in 2019 and submitted her achievements to the Guinness World Record, who recently awarded her the honor in a remote ceremony. Chávez took the title from the late Go Mi-Sun of South Korea, whose ascent to the three highest mountains was achieved in two years and two days in 2007. (She passed away two years later while on an expedition in Nanga Parbat in the western HImalayas.)
The pandemic has put Chávez's climbing plans on hold, and the athlete is home in Mexico now training for the day it's safe to travel and climb again.
'I want to go to Everest someday'
Chávez, who's from Aguascalientes, Mexico, is proof that where there's a will — and a hill — there's a way.
While Chávez admits she voiced a desire to one day climb Mount Everest after she successfully completed a half Ironman, she says breaking the Guinness World Records wasn't a specific goal.
She fell in love with climbing and says her motivation drove her to succeed. To Chávez, if the motivation isn't already there within you, maybe it means you're not actually motivated to do whatever it is you're trying to do.
Chávez doesn't struggle with motivation, which is not to say she doesn't wrestle with fear sometimes. It's not about not having fear, she explains. Rather, "it's about having fear and confronting the fear."
Mind over matter
The "mind is everything," Chávez says, recounting the particularly grueling experience of climbing K2 and seeing another climber fall. Frozen for five to seven minutes, Chávez willed herself to keep going, in spite of the devastating and scary sight.
"I'm crazy," she remembers thinking to herself as she looked up and kept on climbing.
By staying on track, Chávez snagged another title: She became the first Latin American woman to summit K2, the second highest mountain in the world only after Everest.
The K2 expedition, along with Mount Everest and Kangchenjunga, required no small amount of physical conditioning, but Chávez is quick to credit her mind and emotional intelligence as well in taking on the three Himalayan giants.
The power of passion
When Chávez turned to exercising in 2011, she didn't take to the hills immediately.
Before donning hiking boots — and getting accustomed to all of the gear she'd eventually require to make world-famous expeditions — Chávez laced up running shoes, racing a 10k (6.2 miles) and liking it enough to sign up for a half marathon (13.1 miles) and then a full marathon (26.2 miles).
After finishing the half Ironman (70.3 miles), Chávez focused her grit and energy on mountains. Just two years after she started running merely as a form of exercise, Chávez scaled Pico de Orizaba, Mexico's highest mountain.
And that's when something really clicked for Chávez. Mountains, she says, made her heart speed up, beat a little faster.
"Mountains are the place I can challenge myself and know myself better," she adds, searching for words to describe her passion, a strong yet often elusive emotion we can neither control nor contain.
Homesick for tacos
Summitting the world's three highest mountains is intrinsically linked with world travel, the likes of which many an average traveler will never experience in their lifetime, and which Chávez says she enjoyed.
After all, her record-breaking climbs took her to Nepal, China and Pakistan.
"Nepal is a very special place," Chávez says.
Chávez said she would have liked to have stayed longer in Kathmandu after the successful Everest summit but explains that at the end of an expedition lasting two months, "the only thing that you have in mind is your bed and your home."
While in Nepal, Chávez says she was introduced to what the locals called "spicy" food as well as lots of cheese, both of which reminded her of her home country's cuisine.
The food she misses most when traveling? Tacos.
She laughs at the predictability of her favorite comfort food. "I think it's the expected answer," she says, and she's sticking to it.