Interview with Stéphanie Gicquel, extreme sportswoman

Could you introduce yourself?

I am an extreme sportswoman. I evolve in two worlds linked to the extreme: high-level athletics in the disciplines of long-distance and ultra-distance and the exploration of the polar regions (Arctic and Antarctic). 

Among other things, I covered 2045 km across Antarctica via the South Pole in 74 days, an expedition that took place seven years ago and is still the longest expedition on foot without a traction sail by a woman on this continent. The expedition is listed in the Guinness World Records. 

I have also run at the geographic North Pole, seven marathons in seven consecutive days in Antarctica and around the world, and more than 240 km in 24 hours non-stop during the last world championships with the French track and field team. 

I am currently preparing for the European Ultra Championships and the 100km World Championships with the French team - both of these international events will take place in 2022. 

Could you tell us where you grew up?

I was born in Carcassonne and grew up in the suburbs of Toulouse. I grew up in a family environment very far from high level sport and adventure sport.

How did you become a polar explorer?

This is not something that happened overnight, it has been a very long road.

Very early on, I wanted to travel, to discover the world because when I was young I didn't travel abroad. I also think that I became aware quite early on that life is short and that you have to be on the move.

I focused on studies because I told myself that they would give me the keys to be able to undertake, because above all being an adventurer, being a high level sportsman, is a question of entrepreneurship. Studies were a way to emancipate myself.

I went to business school and worked as a corporate lawyer specialising in mergers and acquisitions and LBOs. A field that is also far removed from the world I grew up in. I paid back the student loans with a life in business for several years.  

At the same time, the desire to travel gradually became clearer. I developed a passion for extreme endurance sports, especially ultra-trail and ultra-distance running, and a passion for the polar regions. I love the cold, the whiteness, the deserts... 

Then I had a life as an entrepreneur, as a top-level sportswoman, as an explorer. As an author too.


How did you actually go from being a lawyer to an extreme explorer?

As mentioned, it has been a long journey punctuated by key encounters: those of explorers, mountaineers, and high-level sportsmen, with whom I have had the opportunity to train, particularly in the mountains.

This environment, far from the world in which I grew up, became my daily life as I met people, trained and experienced.

This polar dream, which was just an idea at the beginning, did not stay at the stage of an idea and ended up becoming a goal. After a while, reading about adventures in the white deserts was not enough; I had to go there. 

I am very curious and amazed, which leads me to be interested in many subjects. When I am passionate about a subject, the awareness that life is short pushes me to go for it and I then give it my all. I push my limits. 

It takes several years to mount and prepare an expedition. It takes several years to train and improve a record in high-level sport. And it also takes the strength of perseverance, the strength of hard work, and the strength of confidence that anything is possible.

Was becoming an explorer a dream?

When I was a child, I dreamed of travelling and I always loved sport, outdoor physical activity, without being affiliated to a club because I didn't know they existed. I liked to search for the perfect gesture. I liked sports that required a lot of time and repetition to acquire a technique. I did a lot of sport without knowing it.

What is rather atypical in my path is that I started with adventure sports before evolving into high level sports. The opposite is more common. The desire to travel led me to this path and in particular the trips I had the opportunity to make during my studies in business school.

The desire was strong to travel the great outdoors, to experience the solitude, the fullness, the sublime of the landscapes that surround us.

When you embark on projects that thrill, when you are where you want to be, you feel alive. Of course there are moments of effort and suffering, but as another explorer, Richard Byrd, puts it, these environments are earned because they can only be seen by people who experience these stages.

This is true in everything, in sport, in exploration or in entrepreneurship: the path gives even more pleasure than the achievement of the goal.

What advice could you share about setting up a discipline?

Discipline is a key element in achieving a goal, as is detail work, anticipation, desire and energy level.

I dedicate a chapter in my latest book "On the move" to this resource. Discipline allows adaptation. I became more aware of this as I collaborated on various research protocols and published scientific articles on the adaptation of the human body with researchers from INSEP, the Sport Expertise and Performance laboratory, the Armed Forces Biomedical Research Institute, etc. 

I was already disciplined before I got into adventure sports. In top-level sport, discipline means, for example, sticking to your training plan in spite of bad weather conditions. But this does not mean being stubborn, getting injured or making yourself ill. Too much discipline can be detrimental to performance or to achieving your goals. You need to find the right balance.

Through experience, expeditions and high level sport, I have seen that a detail can make all the difference (a food, a sock rubbing etc.) and can lead to abandonment or failure.

Anticipation helps to manage stress and reduce risk. It allows you to avoid suffering. The only thing left to do is to deal with unforeseeable obstacles.

There is also a question of sincere motivation and time. You have to know how to surround yourself with the right people to go further.

Finally, another essential point is the energy level. Recovery, sleep and diet all contribute to this, and not just the calories but also the micro-nutritional density of the food on our plate. 

How did you hear about Circle?

I met Romain Trebuil a few years ago. I regularly speak to entrepreneurial networks, the Salon des Entrepreneurs, Go Entrepreneurs, the Institut du Mentorat Entrepreneurial, the Fabrique Aviva, BPIFrance Inno Generation, the Réseau Les Premières, Femmes d'Ici et d'Ailleurs, etc. and since January 2021 I have been the sponsor of the Femmes des Territoires network. Within this network, our objective is to encourage constructive interactions around entrepreneurial projects led by women and, thanks to the sharing of experiences, to find more efficient ways of getting each of these projects off the ground, in particular by drawing up business plans and finding suitable funding.

I am also involved with environmental organisations and have founded an association to promote the polar regions. I am also sensitive to fashion and in particular eco-responsible fashion. And of course I love sport... So our meeting was more than obvious!

WHAT DO YOU LIKE ABOUT CIRCLE?

Actions in terms of eco-responsibility, values - in particular consuming less but better, the demand for technicality and performance - design, colours, boldness, modernity, simplicity.

WHEN DO YOU WEAR CIRCLE?

I had the opportunity to test the brand's prototypes during training, whether on the track in Paris, at the INSEP, in Font-Romeu at the National Altitude Training Centre or during my trail sessions in the wild.


WHAT DID YOU THINK?

I like the versatility of the equipment I have tested. I like the adaptability to different environmental conditions - rain, cold, heat.