The Explorer Silvia Vasquez-Lavado – Who Selena Gomez Will Play! – Says Writing Memoir ‘Saved My Life’

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Silvia Vasquez-Lavado

Courtesy of Silvia Vasquez-Lavado Courtesy of Silvia Vasquez-Lavado

Curiously, it wasn’t Silvia Vasquez-Lavado’s treacherous and provocative journey up Mount Everest that ultimately led the explorer to write her first memoirs, In the shadow of the mountain.

Instead, it was a serious biking accident that happened on the first anniversary of her historic ascent in 2016, when she became the first Peruvian woman to summit the legendary mountain.

The accident landed Vasquez-Lavado in the hospital, where doctors discovered a small tumor growing on his brainstem. The tumor turned out to be benign, but the life-altering experience prompted the former Silicon Valley executive-turned-mountaineer to take a serious inward look and quit his job at eBay to start writing. Finally, Vasquez-Lavado was ready to share her story.

The book, In the shadow of the mountain, was released this month and is set for a film adaptation later this year, starring Selena Gomez like Vasquez-Lavado.

“Writing this book, I have to be honest, it saved my life,” Vasquez-Lavado, now 48, told PEOPLE. “It’s been the hardest thing I’ve ever done. It’s been to climb the biggest inner mountain of my life.”

And what a climb it has been.

Silvia Vasquez-Lavado

Silvia Vasquez-Lavado

Courtesy of Silvia Vasquez-Lavado Courtesy of Silvia Vasquez-Lavado

Vasquez-Lavado’s memoirs run intimately through the explorer’s life, an arduous journey to become a world-class mountaineer – and the first openly gay woman to scale the Seven Summits of the World, or the highest peaks on each continent. Yet the barrier-breaker’s climbing career didn’t begin until he was thirty.

Vasquez-Lavado’s memoir revolves around her emotional two-month trek on Mount Everest, but it’s peppered with flashbacks that detail the decades of trauma that inspired her to begin her journey to the top of the world. A survivor of childhood sexual abuse by a close family friend and then of addiction as an adult, the author openly confronts her painful past as well as other heroic stories of a group of young survivors , which she first drives to the foot of the mountain before the real climb begins.

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The physically taxing times they share together invoke catharsis after catharsis in the shadow of Mount Everest, a mountain that Vasquez-Lavado often refers to in motherly terms.

“The first sight of Everest had sparked something irresistible for me,” Vasquez-Lavado writes in the book, recalling the first time she set eyes on the mountain in 2005.

In the book and in her interview with PEOPLE, the author explains that she was inspired to start mountaineering after witnessing a ayahuasca ceremony, during which she had a vision of meeting as a young child and traveling together through a mountain range. The author’s unlikely journey into mountaineering began as an effort to finally confront his struggles with addiction and begin to heal the spiritual wounds inflicted by years of childhood abuse, his rocky relationship with his parents, and the death of his first love, Lori. The book’s climax – and Vasquez-Lavado’s journey up the mountain – brings a moment of resolution to all three battles at once in a harrowing Hollywood ending.

Vasquez-Lavado says the impetus for writing the book was to inspire young people to take care of their mental health and show how adventure in nature can begin to bring that healing.

“I hope it will inspire young people to do it,” she says. “I hope we can truly eradicate all this evil by ensuring that younger and younger young people are no longer ashamed to speak out.”

The author tells PEOPLE that she hopes to act as a “mountain messenger,” in that sense.

“Mountains don’t discriminate,” says Vasquez-Lavado. “They’re just open, and it’s so powerful. You can just have this incredible connection and admiration, and it’s a feeling that will just lighten up your life.”

Silvia Vasquez-Lavado

Silvia Vasquez-Lavado

Courtesy of Silvia Vasquez-Lavado Courtesy of Silvia Vasquez-Lavado

Silvia Vasquez-Lavado

Silvia Vasquez-Lavado

Courtesy of Silvia Vasquez-Lavado Courtesy of Silvia Vasquez-Lavado

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Last year, Vasquez-Lavado’s moving memoir was lit up for a film starring Gomez. The author says it’s “an incredible dream”, calling Gomez a “pioneer” in her own right.

Gomez reflects her admiration on the back cover of her memoir, calling Vasquez-Gomez a “warrior” who “came out of the darkest times of her life to become an inspiration and advocate for others.”

“Keep kidding, I’m ready to pitch a tent in his house,” the author laughs, showing how excited she is to start working with Gomez on the big-screen adaptation of her book.

In the meantime, Vasquez-Lavado tells PEOPLE that she is focused on expanding her San Francisco-based nonprofit. Brave Girlswhich works on “healing and empowering survivors of violence and abuse through nature adventures”.

One of the organization’s signature programs involves guiding a group of survivors on a trek to the foot of Mount Everest, similar to the one Vasquez-Lavado recounts in his memoir.

Vasquez-Lavado also says she is working on a television exploration project and anticipates that work on her biopic will begin to pick up in the coming months now that her memoir is complete. All of this, she says, is driven by being “as open and transparent” about her life as possible, in hopes of helping others through their own struggles.

“Revisiting a lot of that was difficult,” she says. “But I’m proud of it.”

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