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Martina Valmassoi
: athlete or artist?

Martina Valmassoi is the most interesting person I’ve interviewed up to date. Tamara Lunger is powerful, strong and tenacious. Hervé Barmasse is intelligent, cultured, always impeccable whether it’s a solo bivouac on his Matterhorn or a presentation in front of hundreds of people. Tudor Laurini (aka Klaus) is an artist and for this category it is often unnecessary to add anything else. Wafaa Amer has brought her story to every hold and Federica Mingolla moves on the rock like Roberto Bolle on the stage of the Teatro alla Scala. They are all known names, they couldn’t not be. But Martina is a completely different story.

A young Pablo Picasso once said: “All children are born artists, the difficult thing is to remain so when they grow up.” I am convinced that Pablo would have liked (even a grown up) Martina.

Each of us fixes images in the head of the things and people met in life, it is inevitable. I haven’t shaken Martina’s hand yet, but I memorized her like this: shoes dirty with mud, a little fresh and a little encrusted. Loose socks sprinkled with small white pines on a blue background and a red fox running down the malleolus. Both feet off the ground to hide the signs of kilometers and elevation gain of an endless trail. Blue shorts, grey t-shirt, black S/Lab backpack with half full and half empty water bottles and a pair of white headphones dangling to the side with dead batteries. On the left arm what I imagine to be a Suunto, on the right arm anything that can be tied to a wrist. From the right shoulder pops out a pair of telescopic poles presumably used in the more technical passages while on her head she has nothing but an eccentric cap and a headlamp to light up her run. There’s everything on her face: emotion, satisfaction, tiredness, gratitude, pride, sweat and femininity. This is the frame of Marina I want to keep, the one from the time she crossed the finish line at UTMB with no one ahead of her. First, after 145 kilometers and 9100 meters of elevation gain. With both feet still off the ground after 22 hours and 42 minutes of running. First, with arms wide open like someone who wants to embrace the crowd rather than accepting compliments. Because that’s what you will find at UTMB.

We have been exchanging messages on WhatsApp for two years now to organize an outing together, a picnic for her, a hard training for me. And now that the snow finally seems to arrive, the idea of a ski mountaineering tour seems feasible. Of course I will keep you updated on this. As I said before, there are many things to say about Martina, probably too many for these pages. She skis, runs, climbs. She rides her bikes, works, take pictures. She is a kind person. I reach her on the phone and even her voice seems to smile. But be careful, when I say that she skis, I mean that she was part of the A national ski mountaineering team until 2016, collecting two bronze medals and a seventh place at the Tambre d’Alpago world championship. When I say that she runs, I mean that she wins top level trail running and ultrarunning competitions. When I say that she rides her bike, I mean that she precedes the stages of Giro d’Italia alone, and with a fully loaded bike. When I say that she takes pictures, I mean that she tells a piece of herself. When I say that she works, I mean that she works like crazy and when I that say she’s nice, I mean that she always is.

“I believe that pictures are like stories: with a beginning, an end and above all something to say. Since I’ve been taking pictures more frequently, it’s easy for me to tell things through images.”

While I listen to Martina with one ear talking on the phone, I scroll her Instagram feed with two fingers. A photo captures me, the upper part of the shot draws the background in a white and blue gradient while a sharp line cuts the frame diagonally, a clean break between sky and mountain. In the middle, an athletic figure rises against the light, right leg and left arm forward, with the naturalness of someone who does things without taking herself too seriously, which is not necessary. Two long shadow lines stretch towards the observer, towards the photographer, interrupting the texture of the freshly illuminated virgin snow, closing the photo in an impeccable graphic composition. Martina, along that border line between earth and sky is not halfway, it is not even at the beginning. There is more space behind than in the front. A perfect metaphor to tell who, like her, sails on sight. She doesn’t plan every detail, she runs away from that long-term plans that are often counterproductive. She sets off, inquires about the first few meters and prepares herself professionally but then she goes, without useless mental masturbation. She knows her goal well and knows equally well that when that’s very high or far away, it is possible to reach it only by observing it in small parts. In this photo, the author of the shot, Fabian Johann, captured the same thing I felt. He shot it, I wrote it, but Martina remains the one who drew it.

There is a coexistence of lucidity and unconsciousness in her words: reasoning and impulsivity. It is in these features that I am uncomfortable defining her as a “sportswoman” or “athlete” or “photographer”. I feel the term “artist” is more appropriate. On the other hand, the term mentioned, and the dictionary says, is suitable considering as qualities the strength of inspiration and of the feeling, the height of the imagination, and attributing to the artist above all virtuosity and technical ability. Let’s be honest, even in her dance on her Instagram stories, the one in which she performs in pajamas on crutches, there is all this. Ah yes, crutches. She also had a bad accident recently, a rock blast hit her while she was climbing in Trentino. “It could have been much worse” she tells. And this demonstrates, once again, the spirit of those who don’t smile only when they win.

I leave poetry aside for just a moment, to summarize her conquests (the most recent one at least):

• Winner of TDS in the last edition of UTMB
• Giro d’Italia by herself covering a preview of all the stages of the Pink Route
• World record for the greatest elevation gain on skis: 17.645 meters in less than 24 hours

I would like to insert, in these still images that tell her story, one immortalized by herself: the “Martina photographer”. When I look at some pictures of her, I remember how much can be hidden in the unsaid of a good photo. In the black sky, in those strips of light and shadow that flow from the mountain and in the strength of the contrasts, I see Martina, a woman aware that no smile is possible without the balance between black and white. An athlete aware that there can be no light without darkness. An artist capable of creating poetry even with a black sky.

At this point I can’t wait to take a picture of her, to draw her in my own way.

See you soon Martina,

P.S. Don’t ask her why she does what she does, she seemed uncomfortable trying putting it into words. Look at her photos or go follow her, if you can, up and down the mountains.