Grania Willis, who only started climbing in February of 2004, became the first Irish woman to summit Everest from the north side when she reached the top of the world's highest mountain on June 5, 2005.
A former international three-day event rider, Grania has been equestrian correspondent of The Irish Times since 1980. Two serious riding accidents resulted in life-threatening internal injuries and a broken back, bringing her competition career to a premature end, but her determination to overcome these physical setbacks eventually put her on top of the world.
She cut her high-altitude climbing teeth in September 2004, just seven months after she started climbing, when she became the first Irish woman to summit the Himalayan peak Cho Oyu, the sixth highest mountain in the world.
Climbing Everest was certainly not a life-long ambition. The decision was sparked by a mountain flight along the Himalayan range during a charity fundraising walk in Nepal in March 2002. She quit her job with The Irish Times 18 months later and, the following February, started climbing with the aim of tackling Everest in the spring of 2005 in aid of the Irish Hospice Foundation and the Friends of St Lukes Hospital.
Not only did she make it to the summit, she also sent twice weekly stories and pictures back to The Irish Times and did regular radio reports on the Gerry Ryan Show throughout the expedition - proving that women really can multi-task!
In March 2007, Grania teamed up with Ian McKeever and the pair became the first Irish climbers to reach the summit of Carstensz Pyramid in Indonesia. In June 2007, Grania was awarded honorary life membership of the Royal Dublin Society.
In September 2007 Grania was headhunted by The Hong Kong Jockey Club to co-ordinate a global promotional campaign for the Beijing 2008 Olympic and Paralympic equestrian events, which were staged in Hong Kong. During a 15-month contract that involved liaising directly with senior representatives of the Hong Kong SAR Government and the Beijing Olympic Organising Committee, Grania also worked hands-on with many of the world’s leading broadcast corporations, including NBC and top European networks, as well as the international print media.
Following her return from Hong Kong, Grania was again headhunted, this time by the Fédération Equestre Internationale (FEI), the global governing body of equestrian sport. After a six-month consultancy contract, she became FEI Director of Press Relations and is now based permanently at the FEI headquarters in the Olympic Capital in Lausanne, Switzerland. She is still available for speaking engagements and is a popular inspirational speaker who has addressed a variety of corporate and community audiences, including Microsoft, Sanofi-Aventis, the Small Firms Association (SFA) , Meath Sports Partnership, Irish College of General Practitioners (ICPG), CCIS amongst many others.
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