Next March a rugged cruise ship will take Giselle Carson to King George Island in Antarctica, just a few hundred miles from the South Pole, where she plans to run 26.2 miles across the ice and snow.
The Antarctic Ice Marathon will be her 21st marathon and an essential part of her quest to run a race on every continent. She’s already checked off North America, Asia and Europe; South America, Africa and Australia will follow Antarctica.
Living in Jacksonville, it’s going to be impossible to simulate the conditions she’ll face. But for Carson, a 2022 Florida Times-Union EVE Award winner, it’s another challenge in a life that’s already had a few big trials to overcome.
“It’s going to take a mind shift to learn to run on trails, in the snow, in the rain, at elevation,” she said. “It will give me an opportunity to grow.”
The Times-Union EVE Awards are given to women who contributed the most during the past year to the community.
Other 2022 EVE Award winners:
A long and trying journey
Carson was born in Cuba and left the country in 1983, at 15, with her parents. Her stepfather, who had some influence in the government, had arranged a flight to Europe. When it stopped in Montreal, the family got off and turned themselves in for asylum.
She was not happy about that: She’d gone to a government-run boarding school and was pretty indoctrinated, she said, and she had no warning that she’d be leaving everything she knew behind.
Carson was fairly miserable in Montreal, at first, lonely and unable to speak French or English. She attended an immersion school to learn the language and was put alongside children from across the world who had to communicate with sign language and partial phrases.
It was formative. “If we wanted to succeed, we had to be determined and disciplined to graduate from there,” she said.
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She went on to a junior college, then McGill University, persevering through language barriers and money shortages. She then became a physical therapist and married her husband, Jeff, also a physical therapist. And she became a Canadian citizen.
Later, while visiting family in Florida, she and her husband took physical therapy jobs in Daytona Beach, and she began the process that took her from work visa to green card to naturalized American citizen.
Inspired by the work of the attorneys who’d helped her immigration efforts in both Canada and the U.S., she went to school at Florida Coastal School of Law in Jacksonville. She then got a job at Marks Gray, a law firm in the city. In 2005, noticing a need in Northeast Florida, she developed a corporate immigration practice at Marks Gray.
“I had the passion, I had the energy. This is something I wanted to do — I had lived it twice in my life,” she said. “Immigrants in general, not just in the United States, they have to have a very innovative, tenacious, determined personality to overcome millions of challenges … I believe that is so strong for our economy, moving forward.”
Staying busy: ‘I’m a doer’
Carson remains busy today, working for businesses that recruit talented professionals from the globe — people such as Nicolas Lacand who came from France to Jacksonville in 2009 as an engineer for Corys, a French-based company that has a subsidiary in Jacksonville.
Lacand, 42, said Carson is friendly and concerned, and has kept in touch with his family, including his wife who teaches French at Yulee High School.
“All the visa applications, the green card applications related to bringing someone from outside the U.S., were through Giselle,” he said. “We really have tremendous trust in what she’s doing.”
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Carson keeps busy in areas outside of work and running marathons (she retired from ironman competitions in 2017 after completing the 140.6-mile swim-bike-run in Hawaii). She’s a past president of the Jacksonville Bar Association and is in several civic-minded groups. From 2014 until spring of this year, she was on the board of the Jacksonville Aviation Authority, which oversees management of the city’s four airports.
She’s been part of the Jacksonville Children’s Chorus’ Dancing With the Stars program for three years, raising money for scholarships. It helps that she loves dancing — and doing. “I’m a doer,” she said. “I want to do things where I’m a part of it. I don’t sit for too long. I actually had to work to raise the money, I had to train, choreography and all that.”
And during the pandemic, she helped organize a program with the Jacksonville Women Lawyers Association, starting walking and line-dancing groups to help combat social isolation.
She sums up what motivates her this way: “The life that we’re living right now, what we do, our passions — this is it. Enjoy every minute. Contribute. Give back.”