Mountain climbing is a solitary sport even if people team up and form groups to try together for the biggest peaks. Two individual climbers, Zsolt Erőss, one of the best climbers in the world, and yourself met, teamed up and started to climb together. You teamed up to climb and you fell in love. Most people in Hungary know Zsolt’s name. Until you published your book, " A Hópárduc felesége – Életem Erőss Zsolttal", they talked about you as Zsolt’s widow, not another climber. Did this upset you? [The book is in Hungarian. Its title translates as "The Wife of the Snow Leopard – My Life with Erőss Zsolt" – Editor ].

I am not his widow; I am his envoy. For me, Zsolt is not a lost husband. He will always be my husband. We did not get divorced; I did not fall out of love. He will remain part of my identity. For a woman it is very important to get married, to give birth to children and these I lived through with him. We went to Africa and climbed the Kilimanjaro together; we went to Pakistan to Nepal and to other places. I see him now as a prism with the sunshine shining on it and on the other side this light comes out scattered in the colours that are forming, comprising the sunshine. Everything that happened to me happened so that I could meet him, and everything that happened to us together determines my whole forthcoming life after this.

How did you meet?

We "met" on the internet in 2006. I was 26 and I was already climbing, so I knew who Zsolt was. But when we started to write to each other, I did not really think that it is him, that one can just meet such a well-known celebrity. So, I just wrote to him: "If you are really the one you are saying that you are then let us climb together." So we met and took off for the highest peak in Austria, the Grossglockner.

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What was your first impression of him?

"Wow, what a good-looking guy", I thought. He had a grey chequered shirt, cotton trousers, blue eyes and grey hair. When we were going up on the hill and he got tired, he just stopped. Did not want to impress me. Two weeks after we met, I wrote in my diary: "He is The Real Human Being with capital letters."

When did you begin to feel that this might even become a more serious relationship than just climbing?

When we went for our first trip, during the day we hardly spoke. But after the third day I began to feel that we are both interested about each other not only as two climbers, but as a man and a woman. After three months I knew already that he was the one. It was not love at first sight, but by then I knew what I felt for him at that time I would feel for him throughout our entire lives. When we had been together for three years and married for a year, I told him that I never had such a long-lasting relationship. "Neither did I, and after this I will not have with anybody else either," he said. I never thought that we will have only seven years.

When did it become public that you were dating?

A month after we met. He was giving a lecture and at the end of it he asked me to join him on stage and announced that I was his girlfriend. He had already climbed the Everest but he still did not have his accident and his leg amputation, so this was not an important news for the media. At that point we could still live like normal people. People aim, dream about being famous but they have no idea what really it is that they are seeking. The media is not interested about the achievements but only about blood and tears. This is a false, disgusting world.

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In January 2010, both of you were climbing in the Tatra Mountains. Your lives changed fundamentally. What happened?

The Tatras are not high and not difficult climbing targets. Early afternoon, Zsolt and two less experienced climbers went for a short exercise. They were hit by an avalanche. As they were joined by a rope, Zsolt managed to save their lives but their weight was so great that Zsolt’s right leg broke. This happened in the afternoon. The rescue team reached the place of the accident at 3 o’clock in the morning. When I managed to talk to him on the phone, he said, "I broke into pieces". When two days later they brought him back to Hungary, the media was already after us everywhere. After a week at the hospital, he had to start thinking about an amputation.

When Zsolt died, the press put pressure on you to give interviews about losing your husband. The media indicated that when Zsolt had his accident he decided to have the amputation of his leg so that he could resume climbing as soon as possible. Was that the reason?

When Zsolt had his accident, he decided to have the amputation not because he wanted to climb again as it was often indicated in the press, but in order to have an active life and not years of rehabilitation with a damaged leg. We did not really have the time to deal with this loss and what it meant. He very quickly went back to mountain climbing. Looking back now, I think that during all the press presence we missed out on the chance to think whether there could have been a different way, something other than turning back to what we knew. If we do not face those periods, we might not be able to see that they can also bring a chance for a new orientation. A way out of the pain and the disorientation is often to turn back to what we know because it is difficult to tread a new path.

How did you prepare for the birth of your children?

For the birth of my two children I was well prepared. Because of my experience with climbing I know my body very well and I was able to cooperate with the process of giving birth.

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How did your relationship with your children change after Zsolt’s death?

A psychologist helped me through the process of mourning. She also made me realise that there is a need for a mother to mourn the life she had before she had children. Life has periods that need to be closed off. If they are not closed off, they remain a source of pain. Now I can pay attention to my children much better and with greater intensity. I can live my time with them as a chance to learn from them. We do get so much from each other. Gerda, the older one, is very much like me. But there is always a conflict between us. I must ask myself if the fault is in the child and whether I am expecting something from her that I am not capable of doing myself? If we are close to some people, we can love them better – but also hurt them deeper. This is not the fault of the child or the parent. But we must learn to be attentive to what we do so that we can do good to each other.

You have a "third child", The Hópárduc Foundation. This was formulated from your and Zsolt’s friends’ ideas.

It took more than two years until I was ready to have a private ceremony in which we could say goodbye to Zsolt with the children. I needed a place where I could cry, I could do whatever I wanted to do, and I would not have to live up to somebody else’s expectations. After this event I felt as if I were clobbered to death. But already the next day I felt as if I just came up to the surface from underneath the water. After that I could start thinking about the foundation. I wanted to put into the foundation the quality that Zsolt possessed. In the foundation we deal with the development of children’s wall climbing. And this is such a good thing because Zsolt is in it, the climbing is in it, I am in it as a teacher – so we both are in it, and that is our "third child".

We are dealing with children between 4 and 9 who suffer from attention deficit disorder. Zsolt was very much aware of his strength and his weakness. He tried to build on his strength. The children who we work with do not react to punishment. Here we also have to build on their strength.

A lot of them have problems with anger management. So I am giving them a framework in which they can move if they can’t sit still. I can see how much the parents struggle. There is so much information and so little practice there for them. This makes parents very insecure. I can see that about 90% of the parents think that they are not doing well and a small percentage think that they are doing everything right.

I have been thinking of including the parents in the training and they would have to try out situations. After all, if one is aiming to learn to drive a car, one is not only given the theoretical papers, one spends time next to a driving instructor. This is true for all areas. In Germany, for example, I saw that young teachers work next to a mentor for one year before they have their own classes. I think this is a good practice.

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Judging by your name – Sterczer – you have a German, Swabian background. Zsolt was from Transylvania. Apart from the love of climbing, what was similar and what was different in your nature and interests?

There was nothing romantic about our dating. We never went to cinema or to theatre. When we had any time, we went to climb. Sometimes I visited him at his home and when I saw that there was not too much order in the house, I tried to tidy up a bit. Once he said, "On the weekend we should paint the roof". Once he gave me a bunch of flowers. He said: "I got this at my lecture but what can I do with it?" He forgot the anniversaries. These are not the kind of things that in the early stages of a relationship a woman cannot notice. In affairs, these might seem to be only small points but if a third person appears who can fill in these missing points, then these small things can grow big and the relationship or the marriage can just blow apart. At the beginning of our dating one of my friends told me, "Hilda, don’t believe that you will be able to change him". I did not want to change him. Not so long ago I read somewhere: The woman thinks that her partner will be transformed, the man hopes that the woman will never change. Finally, they realise that neither of them was right.


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