In the last twenty years, Marcela Marañon has dedicated her life to championing the cause of individuals living with physical disabilities. It’s not just a vocation for her; it’s her calling, her unwavering mission to shatter the misconception that a disability should ever stand in the way of one’s dreams. For Marañon, those dreams reached extraordinary heights when she aspired to become the first disabled Latina to conquer the towering summit of Mount Kilimanjaro, Africa’s loftiest peak, soaring 19,341 feet into the sky.
The genesis of Marañon’s mission can be traced back to a life-altering moment in 2002. At the tender age of 21, her world was forever changed by a tragic car accident that left her paralyzed from the waist down and claimed the life of her boyfriend. Despite the immense challenges she has faced, including the devastating accident, Marañon has displayed unwavering resilience.
“I’ve always tried to share my personal struggles with everyone,” Marañon, now 41, shares. “My aim is to obliterate barriers and revolutionize people’s perceptions of individuals with disabilities.” She plays a pivotal role by advocating for individuals with disabilities and dismantling preconceived notions and misconceptions, leading by example.
At present, Marañon boasts an impressive following of almost 600,000 on her Instagram profile, aptly named “The Journey of a Brave Woman,” along with over 330,000 followers on TikTok. Through these platforms, she confronts the many misconceptions surrounding physical disabilities head-on.
“Numerous stereotypes persist about people with disabilities,” Marañon emphasizes. “People see a woman in a wheelchair and erroneously assume that we can’t be wives or mothers. They perceive our medical equipment – wheelchairs, canes, and the like – as hindrances. The truth is, these devices grant us greater freedom and independence; they are a source of empowerment.”
Marañon’s own optimistic outlook on life was hard-won, especially in the aftermath of her accident. While she adamantly refuses to adopt a “woe is me” mentality, she candidly admits to grappling with moments of despair as she grappled with the magnitude of the changes that lay ahead.
“I faced periods of mourning and thoughts like, ‘I don’t know what my life will become,'” Marañon reveals. “I was discontent with my reflection in the mirror, burdened by negativity. Overcoming those feelings involved taking life one day at a time, setting achievable goals, and convincing myself that I am inherently valuable and beautiful. I’ve trained my mind to embrace this philosophy, and it’s the lens through which I now live.”
It’s a message that Marañon hopes reaches not only adults living with physical disabilities but also the parents of children with disabilities. She wishes to convey to parents that, with their unwavering support, their children can achieve anything they set their hearts on.
“Parents often fret about an uncertain future for their children as they grow up with disabilities,” Marañon notes. “But when they witness me accomplishing all these feats, their perspectives expand. They see that someone who has been in a wheelchair for an extended period can indeed have a promising future.”
Marañon envisions this brighter future not only for herself but for disabled children across the globe. Currently, she is tirelessly raising funds to establish a recovery center in Tanzania dedicated to children with Spina Bifida and Hydrocephalus. Her online store, which sells inspiring merchandise, including shirts emblazoned with messages like “Be Kind to Yourself” and “Equally Human,” serves as a key avenue for her fundraising efforts.
Big box stores like Target and Walmart are now making strides in the direction of inclusivity by introducing a thoughtfully curated collection of adaptive products, encompassing utensils, tableware, assistive devices, sensory-friendly toys, and backpacks tailored to work seamlessly with wheelchairs, hearing aids, and clothing, thanks in part by Marcela Marañon advocacy.
Marcela’s unquenchable thirst for exploring the world, combined with her passion for travel, adventure, and various outdoor pursuits, led her to an unexpected yet compelling journey. She embarked on this adventure with the help of a remarkable technological innovation called the Rewalk, a bionic walking assistance system featuring powered leg attachments designed to assist individuals in standing, maintaining an upright posture, and walking.
In 2019, an extraordinary opportunity came knocking on Marcela’s door, one she couldn’t resist. She was invited to join a small group of individuals who, like her, had faced spinal cord injuries, on an awe-inspiring expedition to conquer Mount Kilimanjaro. This daunting challenge was presented by Friends of Access Israel, a non-profit organization dedicated to organizing group trips and tours for people with disabilities, with a mission to promote inclusivity in global travel.
To make this ambitious ascent possible, a team of 70 skilled guides and porters was assembled, all of whom were committed to supporting Marcela and her companions on their quest to conquer the 19,341-foot mountain. This formidable journey unfolded over a span of eight grueling days, involving eight hours of climbing each day.
In the lead-up to her extraordinary climb, Marcela undertook rigorous preparations to ensure her body was up to the task. She diligently attended boxing classes twice a week, maintaining her physical fitness and adhering to a wholesome diet to ensure she remained strong and resilient throughout the journey.
However, Marcela’s preparations extended beyond the physical realm, as she emphasized the significance of mental and emotional readiness. She shared her insights with BuzzFeed, stating, “I readied myself mentally, emotionally, and physically because this journey is incredibly demanding. It demands unwavering willpower and disciplined determination.”
Marcela’s journey to the summit of Mount Kilimanjaro not only exemplifies her incredible personal determination and spirit but also underscores the power of technology and community support in enabling individuals to overcome daunting challenges and explore the beauty of the world.
“I take immense pride in this endeavor because it’s my way of giving back to my community and underprivileged regions worldwide,” Marañon affirms. “It’s all about recognizing each other for who we are and acknowledging that each one of us has a unique purpose in this world.”