Maiza Lima’s route into the world of sport climbing has been more challenging, more fraught with danger than any 5.13 she’ll ever encounter. Maybe that’s why the 33-year-old climber appears so unflustered on the blank faces and overhangs of her project routes from the Cascades to Red Rock Canyon.
The unlikely Climbing cover girl was raised in the state of Pará in northern Brazil, home to the Amazon Rainforest. Life in her village, Alacilândia, was simple. The family didn’t have much. Their home was constructed of palm trees. Maiza and her two brothers rarely had enough food, clothing, or shoes. If the fishing wasn’t good, she says, they would subsist on squash, carrots, or potatoes for days at a time. Their hand-stitched mattresses were hay filled. They didn’t own a car, so laundry day meant a long hike to the Arraias do Araguaia River. Educational opportunities were limited. There were no Christmases, no birthday celebrations either. There simply wasn’t enough money.
And there was the unsettling matter of her now-estranged father and his addictions—to both alcohol and gambling. He would disappear at night, sometimes not returning until the next morning. When the losses mounted, he’d send someone to the house to fetch more cash.
“This journey brings me to tears almost every day,” said Lima, who’s emerged as one of the sport’s most exciting new talents. “It’s just so unlikely that sometimes I can’t even believe it myself. I feel like I’m one in a million. I just remember dreaming of a better future when I was 10, 12. I had nothing going for me. I didn’t even have a higher education to go to. The fact that I’ve been able to turn my life around and get away from it has been absolutely incredible.”
“I always had big dreams. I always had this belief inside of me that I was meant to do something,” she added. “I just didn’t know how to get to it.”
By the time Maiza was 17, her mother, Geralda, had had enough. To escape her increasingly abusive husband—and to find a way to better support her children—she set off for the United States with her daughter in tow. Maiza remembers leaving Alacilândia, her younger brother running after the car, crying. Exactly how they made it to Kirkland, Washington in 2004 has for years remained a closely guarded secret.
To protect herself, Maiza would tell friends and acquaintances that she regularly traveled back to Brazil over the years. But the truth is, she’s never been back. That’s because she and Geralda came to the U.S. illegally. It’s only now that Lima is beginning to unburden herself, opening up and revisiting all that she went through as a teenager.
“I’ve never shared this because the fear of judgement was so big for so many years. It’s been really hard to keep all of this to myself,” she said. “We went through a lot, my mom and I. I think that brought us so much closer together. We didn’t think we were doing something so bad, so illegal. We just wanted to change our lives.”
Photo Credit: Irene Yee