This is a very special “Why I Climb” for me. I’m dedicating it to my Survivor Summit teammate, the indomitable Mindy Boyum.
Mindy is a fellow Austinite who works at LIVESTRONG as a Major Gifts Officer. I work at the University of Texas at Austin in Development, so when we met up to go for a hike a few weeks before the climb, we had a lot in common and I hoped we would click immediately. We picked a meeting spot along the Greenbelt, and Mindy gave me her cell phone number so we could touch base. She also told me quite matter-of-factly that I would be able to identify her because she’d be the one wearing a prosthesis.
That’s right: Mindy is a cancer survivor, and an above-the-knee leg amputee. She lost the lower part of her leg after battling osteorsarcoma as a teenager. Her attitude is amazing; she never lets anything keep her spirit down, and she works incredibly hard to complete tasks. During our pre-Kilimanjaro hike in Austin, I walked by the side of her and held my hands out for her to grab as she navigated any tricky rocks. She constantly said “thank you” and cracked jokes as we both ambled along in the heat. She never complained, and never got frustrated with having to take slower, more precise steps to maintain steady footing on the rocks.
During that initial meeting, I had the opportunity to learn a little bit about her life, and I heard about her first attempt to climb Kilimanjaro a few years earlier. She told me she had almost made it to the top, but had to turn around at Stella Point because her legs were completely spent. While I’m sure it must have been a difficult and disappointing decision for Mindy to turn back from the summit, I never heard her talk negatively about the experience—she had learned lessons from the first attempt and as a result, she seemed even more determined to make it to the summit this time around. After our hike, I remember thinking that if anyone deserved to make it to the summit of Kilimanjaro as a testament to survivorship, it was Mindy.
A few weeks later, we were in Tanzania, and Mindy was my tentmate. Kilimanjaro was waiting for her the second time, and she was ready for the challenge. Honestly, I didn’t get a chance to climb with Mindy as often as I would have liked. Instead of hiking with her daily on the trail, I spent a lot of time walking ahead so I could get to our tent and make sure her bags were where they needed to be, near our tent. Sometimes, I would set up her stuff for her. Basically, my goal was for everything to be ready when she made it to camp each night; I didn’t want her to have to be concerned about anything except getting to that summit—and I was assuring her that my teammates and I would make sure she got there.
One of my favorite rituals during our climb of Kilimanjaro was at the end of the day when Mindy would get in to camp. She’d crawl into the tent and we’d catch up and laugh about silly little happenings along the trail. Sometimes, Mindy would have a 12 or 13 hour hike, and I would just be in awe of her. She always kept a positive, go-with-the-flow attitude. Her strength was incredible.
I think it is safe to say that Mindy was the soul of our team. We always wanted to know how she was doing and where she was on the mountain. If she was having a long day, we’d stay up to greet her and keep her company. Her presence inspired us to be kinder, stronger, and happier. Most importantly, she taught us that with a good attitude, anything is possible in the face of a challenge.
She truly embodied the mission of Survivor Summit.
Today and every day, I am honored to climb for Mindy.
Mike is one of the founders of Survivor Summit, an organization which aims to lead cancer survivors and their supporters on life-altering journeys. The mission of this great organization is to inspire survivors, fighters, and communities to challenge the mental and physical boundaries associated with cancer.
Our climb of Kilimanjaro was the inaugural event for Survivor Summit, and the funds we raised benefited LIVESTRONG’s cancer programs and services. Mike and his brothers formulated the idea for the climb after Mike had summitted Kilimanjaro through a leadership program available at the University of Pennsylvania’s Wharton School.
So, a funny story about Mike is that he was wholly unprepared for his first trip to Africa’s highest peak because he didn’t bring the right gear at all. His sleeping bag was soaked at one point, and as a result, he had a few uncomfortably cold nights on the way to summit. But he still made it to the 19,341 foot peak, which speaks to the strength of his character and his determination.
This time around, Mike was so prepared; he had all the correct equipment and was able to lead the rest of us during conference calls when we were unsure about what to expect. If we needed to call him to ask him a question, he’d get back to us immediately. Additionally, he helped prepare all of our logistics and rescue insurance, and made sure that everything was attended to before we landed in Tanzania.
But I think being a leader is more than making sure that the odds-and-ends are all secured. Instead, I believe that a good leader is someone who shows genuine care and concern for others, and wants to see everyone succeed, even if it means taking a little longer than expected. Mike was an exceptional leader in this respect, as he often checked in on everyone during the climb, and would slow his pace down to reflect that of his teammates.
One of the things I will always fondly remember about Mike happened on Summit Day. Our plan was to break up into three groups, with:
Team Mindy (Mindy, Lachlan, Daniel, and Chad, with Earth Treks’ Nelson Laur leading), leaving first for Uhuru peak at 10:30 p.m.
Team K2 (Kim, Katie, Scott S., Scott A., Brian, Amy, and Danny, with Earth Treks’ Chris Warner leading) departing for summit at 11:30 p.m.
And Team Simba (Mike, Mona, Caroline, Missy, Chasse, and I) taking off after midnight.
The group I was with ended up passing the other groups within the first three hours or so of the climb (probably because we were motivated to climb quickly since it was so cold!). We made it to Stella Point by 6:30 a.m., and walked to the summit by 7:00 a.m. to watch the sun rise. Temperatures were -35 degree Fahrenheit. We took photos and held our honor flag high. We were instructed to make it down to Barafu camp after about 30 minutes. Missy and Caroline were beginning to develop headaches, so they took off quickly for the camp below. It looked like the rest of us would follow suit.
As I got ready to head for Barafu with Mona and Chasse, I planted my heels into the scree to ski down with my trekking poles. I then turned to see Mike looking elated to see the other group at Stella Point. He said that he was physically fine and that he wanted to hand off our honor flag to Team K2 and see how they were doing. Basically, he was going to stick around on the top of the mountain and summit twice that morning.
I don’t think I’ll ever forget that moment. I descended 4,000 feet to Barafu, all the while remembering the incredible leadership Mike had just displayed. I think he would have stayed for the rest of the day to see Team Mindy summit, too, if it had been physically possible. Mike was amazing that morning, as he made sure that our honor flag and our team all made it intact. Our entire team made it to 19,341 feet. The very first Survivor Summit event went off perfectly thanks to Mike.
"Leader." That word describes Mike King perfectly, and it’s why I climb for him today, tomorrow, and always.
After a short hiatus, I’m back to posting on my blog and dedicating my climb to my incredible Survivor Summit teammates. This “Why I Climb” goes out to Scott Schofield.
As you may have read in my blog earlier, I was involved in a non-profit organization called Texas 4000 for Cancer, in which I rode a bicycle 4,500 miles from Texas to Alaska to spread hope, knowledge, and charity in the fight against cancer.
Well, during the climb of Kilimanjaro with Survivor Summit, Scott and I got a chance to bond over our love of bicycles. We would talk about frame sizes, various cycling components, and what the process of handcrafting a bicycle might entail.
Scott knows a lot about riding. And while I might have endurance on my side from Texas 4000, I got the impression that Scott is pretty darn fast on the bike. In fact, he was quick on the climb, too; I think if he wanted, he could have left a lot of us in the dust.
Except, that’s not Scott’s personality.
No, Scott is an exceptionally faithful and considerate guy, and he stuck by his wife Katie’s side throughout the trip. He had a persistent smile on his face from the base to the summit, and always looked like he was having a good time during our trek. I felt very fortunate to have such a great teammate around, who spread his positive energy amongst the rest of us as we gathered for breakfast and dinner every day in the food tent.
From watching Scott, I learned how infectious a good attitude can be amongst a group. So today, I climb for him.
So, my schedule has been a little crazy since getting back from climbing Kilimanjaro! I’ve been catching up on emails and tasks at work, welcoming guests into town, and trying to get back in the swing of things—especially blogging! I hope to write some more posts on Saturday, and take time to reflect on the important things I learned from summitting Africa’s highest peak to fight cancer. Stay tuned, Tumblr; I swear I have more thoughts on which to expand…
I’m going to write this next “Why I Climb” for my Survivor Summit teammate, Lachlan Tindal.
Lachy was the only international member of our Survivor Summit team, representing the entire continent of Australia. But represent he did. He was a strong climber, a hilarious joker, and quite the runner. He blew past me with some super fancy footwork while we were on slick, muddy sets of downhills on our last day on the mountain. Off he disappeared, into the mist in his navy blue short shorts.
All kidding aside, Lachlan was an amazing team-player whom anyone could count on when needed.
I was fortunate to spend the first few days hiking in the same group as Lachlan, but our expedition guides, Nelson and Chris, quickly saw the value in having someone so strong migrate over to support Team Mindy (named for amazing cancer survivor, amputee, and teammate Mindy Boyum!).
While I think Lachlan would have been able to summit about 20 hours ahead of the rest of us, he was absolutely content to hang out at a more relaxed pace. You see, Lachlan is humble. He is always happy, never drags anyone down, and works incredibly hard, too—and here’s the best part: he doesn’t need any recognition for it. From what I saw, Lachlan wanted to do his part to help Team Mindy summit. He learned a lot about himself during the whole process, and he even had some energy to spare, too.
Lachlan’s humility and selflessness really paid off: Survivor Summit had a 100 percent summit rate of Kilimanjaro. I continue to be in awe of what Team Mindy—and our whole group—accomplished, and I know it was because of some truly incredible people, like Lachlan.
This “Why I Climb” is dedicated to my Survivor Summit teammate, Brian King.
I blogged about the King family in an earlier post, before I had the opportunity to meet our founder Mike and his brother, Brian. When we all arrived in Tanzania, Mike was there, but Brian wasn’t; he had missed his flight! Mike told us Brian would be joining us the next day, and luckily, both he and his bags showed up 24 hours later at the KIA lodge.
Losing that extra day, though, meant that Brian had only a few hours to get everything packed and ready to go for the climb, and a little bit to sleep off the jet lag. No matter. Brian jumped in like a champ and hiked through everything with the rest of us. I never heard him complain once, and he was such a good sport about any curveballs thrown his way.
Even better, after our climb and during the safari, Brian was able to kick back and engage with everyone in such a relaxed, fun way. I think that’s what I enjoyed the most about Brian: he just rolled with the changes. I learned that things don’t always go according to plan. And yet, it doesn’t have to get in the way of exciting, productive, and meaningful experiences. Brian didn’t let any crazy details affect the importance of his climb of Kilimanjaro for his dad, Paul, who is currently in treatment for prostate cancer.
That’s pretty amazing to me, so today, I climb for Brian.
Even though our climb of Kilimanjaro is over, my teammates and I are still taking donations for LIVESTRONG—in fact, we just hit over $230,000 today, thanks to a generous gift from Amy Bartlett’s friends and family! Click the link above to show your own support for LIVESTRONG’S incredible cancer programs and services.
The following is Chasse Bailey-Dorton’s “Thoughts on Climbing Kilimanjaro and Cancer Survivorship.” She is one of my Survivor Summit teammates, as well as a breast cancer survivor and doctor. Read on for her poignant writing…
"From my personal experience, the similarity between climbing Mount Kilimanjaro and the experience of cancer survivorship is overwhelming.
When you first hear the word ‘cancer,’ the immediate thoughts that run through your mind include ‘I can’t do this,’ ‘fear,’ ‘overwhelmed,’ ‘scared’ which are recurrent thoughts during different stages of the route to climb Kilimanjaro. Even the thought of death sneaks into your mind as you assess some of the perilous portions of the Kilimanjaro climb, which is certainly a big part of the cancer experience.
The first phase of preparing to climb Kilimanjaro is the gathering or your needed gear list. The first phase of cancer diagnosis has a similar stage: gathering CT/MRI scans results, lab results, physical exam and biopsy/pathology results. Once you have all your information and equipment you are ready to select your route and proceed with the journey.
On the Kilimanjaro climb, you only take one short slow step at a time with all your attention on where you will place your foot for the next step. Your attention cannot waiver to even enjoy the surrounding scenery for fear of a miss-step. If you look ahead (i.e., worry about what comes next) the path seems daunting and unachievable but with your head down and focused on each moment, you make the day’s journey one small step at a time. Our African guides continuously reminded us to ‘pole, pole’ which is Swahili means “slowly, gently, softly, quietly; be calm, take it quietly.
On the Kili climb, you have guides, which advise you and lead you on the correct path at the correct speed. In survivorship, our guides are our physicians and navigators. Near the summit it was so cold
that at times I needed my guide to help me with the simple task of putting my gloves back onto my hands. In cancer, you often have to ask for assistance with the simple tasks of life.
On the Kili climb, you have porters, whose job is to carry all your needed equipment (tents, food, equipment, luggage, etc.). In survivorship, we have many resources to help us carry the load—such as oncology nurses and the LIVESTRONG Organization.
On the Kili climb, we have our teammates who help encourage, motivate and inspire us each day. In survivorship, we have our friends and other survivors who play this role.
Finally, we have our tentmates on the climb and in survivorship we have our family who are there with us day and night, minute by minute, even when we are weak, tired and dirty—they are there to share our lives and experience.
While climbing Kilimanjaro, your body and mind has to continually adjust to smaller amounts of available oxygen as you reach higher altitude, which often leads to fatigue and shortness of breath. The journey through cancer survivorship often leaves you feeling the exact same way!
So while both ‘mountains’ seem insurmountable, by taking small slow steps with the help of guides, porters, teammates and tentmates—if you ‘pole, pole’—then you will indeed reach the summit of whatever mountain you are facing! So thank you LIVESTRONG and Survivor Summit for teaching me another valuable lesson regarding life and cancer survivorship! “Pole, Pole ya’ll.’”
My next “Why I Climb” is dedicated to my Survivor Summit teammate, Scott Andringa.
Scott is a cancer survivor, and a successful lawyer who runs his own business. He also has a hobby that he’s great at: photography. He took so many incredible photos of us during the climb, and I’m really grateful I have something to look at that has a lot higher quality than images from my simple point-and-shoot camera.
During the trip, I was fortunate to see Scott’s kindness when interacting with my teammates and I; he just had the best things to say about all of us, and his appreciation of meeting and learning about everyone never waned. He even told me, “you’re like a daffodil that’s tough as nails” and that I am “one tough cookie,” both of which I will treasure for a long time.
I also think one of the things that I appreciate the most about Scott is that he was never afraid to express his concerns, fears, and doubts about the climb, and he was always asking our guides good, solid questions so that he could be prepared to keep gaining elevation. Those behaviors made me realize that Scott is not only smart, but he also has quite the work ethic. Additionally, it made me understand that his hard-working attitude and his drive to help fight against cancer made him unstoppable from reaching the peak of Kilimanjaro. He did, and he truly earned it.
Kind and diligent—those words sum up Scott Andringa pretty perfectly.
Raymond, Daniel, Raymond Daniel, RayDan, or DG is known by various monikers amongst different circles, but I just call him crazy! He became a part of our Survivor Summit team a little later in the game, and yet I honestly can’t imagine climbing Kilimanjaro without him.
Daniel was an integral part of Team Mindy, which helped our amazing above-the-knee leg amputee and cancer survivor Mindy Boyum summit the mountain. And, he was pretty awesome at making us all laugh—whether he was wearing his ’80s-style board shorts, donning a laid-back, California-inspired t-shirt at 15,000 feet, telling jokes, making sure everyone in his climbing group had pins from his favorite band ALO, or posing for crazy pictures while we visited the Ngorongoro Wildlife Lodge. One just couldn’t help having a great time being around him.
That’s what I learned from Daniel: to have a good attitude, and to just have fun with it—all of it. Something tells me he might have picked up some of those traits from his dad, “Coach” Goni, for whom he was climbing, as well as his friends, who all sound like a riot.
Daniel was such an incredible teammate and today, I climb for him.
My next “Why I Climb” is dedicated to my Survivor Summit teammate, Caroline Scemama.
In all aspects, Caroline is a beautiful spirit. She regularly practices yoga, and is such a peaceful, warm, and wonderful presence to be near. During the entire trip, she took time to find her words, as well as meaning in each moment. As a result, she had a way of being very eloquent and introspective.
So it comes as no surprise to me that she would make this comment in regards to reaching the summit of Kilimanjaro: “We made it…and this ended up being such a small moment compared to the rest of the journey…proof that we need a destination but it’s the journey [that] matters…”
Yes. Seriously, it’s the journey that matters, and teaches us things that we can only dream of realizing. Caroline was a great teammate, and taught me that the quieter moments in life can be very nurturing and soothing to the soul.
She reminded me to be mindful during this once-in-a-lifetime adventure, and for that, I am forever grateful. Thank you, Caroline. Today, I climb for you.
Mona is one of my Survivor Summit teammates and a fellow Yankee-turned-Austinite. She originally hails from Boston, and has traveled pretty extensively before ending up in our hipster Texas town. She works at LIVESTRONG, and her reasons for doing the climb are very personal, too: she lost her brother to cancer a number of years ago.
Mona is always doing her part to help in the fight against cancer, making her an incredible teammate and advocate for the cause. Additionally, we all relied on her strength and familiarity with mountains on this trip; she’s summitted Kilimanjaro before, as well as Denali, and a slew of mountains in Latin America.
But one the best things about Mona is that she’s not much of a self-promoter. She could go on an on about all the amazing stuff she’s done—from stand up paddle boarding in Dam That Cancer, to running marathons. Instead, she has a quiet sense of confidence, and is always happy to help others. She stuck by Mindy’s side for hours on end, gave me one hell of a pep talk before heading up the Barranco Wall, and took so many beautiful pictures of our climb so that we would all be able to remember it for many years to come.
One of the words I think of when I think of Mona is “peaceful.” She taught me the value in having a calm, level-headed, stable, and dependable presence when tackling a challenge. I’m thankful for this lesson, and so excited to know a new face in Austin as a result of Survivor Summit. Today, Mona, I climb for you.
Katie, my fellow Survivor Summit teammate, is a thyroid cancer survivor, celebrating 30 years of NED (or “no evidence of disease”—meaning she is currently cancer-free). When she was diagnosed as a young college student, she got medicine, surgery, and a pamphlet about thyroid cancer. She was told her prognosis was good. Yet she received no outside support, financially or emotionally. No wonder Katie loves LIVESTRONG, which provides cancer programs and services for the newly diagnosed, survivors, family members, friends, and caretakers.
Like a few of my other teammates, Katie had unknowingly eaten some things that made climbing Kilimanjaro even more of a challenge. Her stomach was upset for a few days, and once that subsided, some breathing difficulties kicked in as the result of the high altitude and dry, dusty air at the camps. But Katie was ever the trooper, and would put her head down to get the job done. I really admired her can-do spirit. Katie taught me about the importance of having the mental toughness to persevere, even when one doesn’t feel well, or when things don’t go as planned.
I also loved that Katie invited me to get involved with her “Friends Fighting Cancer” cycling group, which routinely participates in LIVESTRONG Challenges. I’m still undecided about whether I can make this year’s event in Austin, but Katie’s kindness makes her a fantastic advocate for LIVESTRONG’s mission and for cancer survivors everywhere. Simply put, I hope Katie gets another 30 years of NED to spread her joy and good attitude everywhere she goes—maybe that will include the peaks of other mountains, too.
This is my next “Why I Climb,” and it goes out to my Survivor Summit teammate, Amy Bartlett.
Five years ago, Amy was battling and finishing her treatment for Non-Hodgkin’s Lymphoma. I first learned about her journey from friend and fellow teammate, Kim McIntyre. And when I met Amy in person once we were in Tanzania, she taught me so much about survivorship. Two of her mantras are: “cancer may leave your body, but it never leaves your life” and “cancer is the best and worst thing to ever happen to me.”
From her, I learned about the emotional and physical effects that cancer can have on survivors years after treatment ends, but I didn’t learn them because Amy let them slow her down. Rather, she let those experiences propel her forward, strengthen her relationships, and live strong.
When we got back from the trip, Amy wrote the following email to her supporters and teammates, which made its way around the internet—including the LIVESTRONG blog. Here’s the email:
I’ve spent the last 7 days thinking about a couple of things.
(1) How to describe the most epic adventure of my life, and (2) how to put in to words what your support and encouragement means to me.
I’m still at “Friends, …”
I spent seven days climbing 37 miles up to the summit of Mt. Kilimanjaro. We all made it, touched the sign, high-fived our teammates—but, that wasn’t my favorite part of the expedition. On day 3, I had the honor of climbing with the lovely Mindy Boyum’s team. She works for Livestrong and is an above the knee amputee from her cancer when she was just a little girl. Yeah, she kicks some serious booty. What was meant to be a 6 [to] 8 hour hike turned into an over 13 hour hike, darkness, cold, and uncertainty as to when we would make it to camp. (I did feel pretty cool wearing my headlamp though. Very Indiana Jones-ish.) Anyways, Mindy never complained once always keeping her eye on the prize. When we arrived to camp that evening around 9:30pm, our teammates were waiting for us. They rushed to make sure we were OK, served us hot tea and dinner. Everyone wanted to help us. We wanted them to make sure they knew we were OK.
You see, unbeknownst to me, this entire trip was a metaphor for a journey with cancer. Pretty sneaky, LIVESTRONG! It all became clear to me on day 3, which is why it will remain my most special day of the trip. A mountain seems impossible if you just look at the mountain (cancer). It is unfamiliar & scary territory until you get experienced guides (doctors) and break it down by day/milestone. People want to be on your team to support you (family, friends). The patient wants to do it—climb the mountain—in their own style and pace. Achieving your goals takes teamwork.
This is LIVESTRONG: It’s your life, you will have it your way.
I made lifelong friends and spent two weeks in a beautiful African land called Tanzania. Cancer remains the best and worst thing that has ever happened to me.”
This email sums up most everyone’s feelings about the trip, and serves as an extension of the LIVESTRONG Manifesto. Amy has done amazing things as a survivor in her own life, and this trip was a way for her to help others, too.
And if you visit Amy’s fundraising page, you’ll notice that she has raised over $43,000 for cancer programs and services at LIVESTRONG. $43,000! How awesome is that?
Thanks to Amy for teaching me that survivors can live strong and do amazing things after treatment ends—and for also teaching me to live strong for others, too. Today, I climb for Amy.
p.s. my favorite moment with Amy was when she “double rainbowed" when she saw elephants on the safari. She shrieked with excitement and awe when the pachyderms came ambling along our path. Let’s just say while she is a kickass fundraiser and cancer survivor, she almost scared all the animals away on our trip! Way to go, Amy, way to go.
This “Why I Climb” is dedicated to my Survivor Summit teammate, Chad Oyler.
Chad works as a prosthetist, helping to design and make prostheses. He got involved with our trip to Kilimanjaro through his work with his friend and patient Mindy Boyum, an above-the-knee leg amputee, cancer survivor, and fellow Survivor Summit teammate. And while he signed up much later than most of us, he was such a strong climber—he even took the time to make his way up rocks at Lava Tower for some amazing pictures.
I was blown away with Chad’s loyalty and concern for Mindy. He would hike at all hours by her side, ask her how she was doing, and then, when we’d be done climbing for the day, he’d throw on Mindy’s hot pink down jacket to make us laugh. He’d get up the next morning and do it all over again, day after day—even when those hikes would be 15 hours long.
Chad was very kind and caring to everyone on our team. He even helped calm my nerves on a crazy Tanzanian car ride up a 2,000 meter road with a cliff on one side. Going on safari with him was also a blast, with him and Amy Bartlett giggling to references about Double Rainbows in the back of the vehicle.
All in all, his loyalty and kind demeanor was an excellent model of behavior for our whole team, and it taught me to treat others just as well—and to have a little fun while doing so, too.
Missy is a thyroid cancer survivor, a trail-running machine, and a dynamic spitfire of a personality.
I did just fine on the climb, but I could barely keep up with Missy, who could take off ahead of everyone like a bandit. As an All-American runner and lover of the outdoors, she would leap and bound with no issues, and never lose her breath.
This set of skills came in handy for the rest of us, who would often need to hear a ridiculous story to maintain a happy and positive spirit. Missy was full of crazy stories and epic one-liners that would keep us occupied for hours. With her around, the hikes would dwindle from tedious two hour walks to 45 minute sprints full of stories.
It was smooth sailing.We’d usually get to camp first. And the next day, after waking up and getting rid of the “cranky pants” associated with the task of packing her bag, Missy would settle back in to being a total pistol.
And yet for being a climber that was so strong, I never heard Missy complain about the rest of us taking too long. For all her energy, she was incredibly patient and kind. It makes me thankful to have had Missy as a teammate, as it taught me the importance ofbeing patient with others—a virtue I hope to use for many years to come. Like I’d do for any of my teammates, today, I climb for Missy.
This “Why I Climb” goes out to Kim McIntyre, one of my Survivor Summit teammates.
Kim has a heart of gold. She fundraised a crazy amount of money for LIVESTRONG in honor of her mom, Lou, who passed away several years ago after bravely fighting breast cancer. The anniversary of her mom’s death was the 2nd of July—coincidentally, this was our summit day atop Kilimanjaro, too.
Leading up to climb, I’d follow along on Kim’s inspiring blog, all the while getting more excited to meet her. On Facebook, she’d share more stories about fighting cancer, as well as photos of her adorable golden retriever.
When we finally met and started climbing, poor Kim wasn’t feeling so great! She had eaten some things that didn’t agree with her stomach, and as a result, it made the first few days of the trek physically tough for her. But she fought through it, with her train pin in honor of her mom gleaming as bright as her smile. She never complained, and always kept in mind why we were on this journey together. Along the way, she’d point out things that others might have easily missed: the beauty in a field of sunflowers, the colors of the sky and the clouds, the ants on the rainforest floor, and the smiles of our Tanzanian porters.
That’s the lesson that Kim taught me on this trip; that no matter how tough times get, the world is an amazingly beautiful place—you just have remember to stop, look, and take it all in.
A few silly things that everyone should know about Danny:
He LOVES the St. Louis Cardinals.
He has a dog named Milkshake (isn’t that a cool name for a dog?).
He was our oldest participant on the climb, but you wouldn’t know it, because he acts like a big kid.
I’ve never seen anyone look so awesome with white sunscreen applied to their face.
He may or may not have known that tents have interior pockets where you can stow things.
We might have pretended that it was his birthday on our one-night, July 4 stay at the Ngorongoro Wildlife Lodge. He got a cake out of the deal, as well as the staff to sing him a song. He was a good sport the whole time.
When we got back from the trip, Danny serenaded my teammates and I with a “Call Me Maybe” parody video. He even wore his headlamp. We’re supposed to add our own clips to it, but I think his version is pristine as is.
And now, in all seriousness, it’s time for more things to know about this amazing person:
Several years ago, Danny lost his wife and his mom to cancer within months of one another. One day, while hiking with him, I asked him how he and his late wife, Susan, met. He told me the story, and discussed her six battles with cancer. After that day, I’d see Danny all ready to go in the morning, and I’d know wholeheartedly that he was doing this climb to honor her and her three children.
He raised over $15,000 for LIVESTRONG in the same manner the tortoise beat the hare; slow and steady, and never wavering. He always gave a shoutout to other members of our team when they hit their goals. He is such a team player.
Danny’s not a camper, nor is he a mountaineer. But he dedicated himself to this expedition completely. I’d watch his updates online before we met, and he was completely cognizant of how much time he needed to spend working out in order to climb Kilimanjaro. He’d go to the gym, climb stairs at work, and use a ball to increase his balance. He trained so hard for this adventure, and as a result, he got in shape, lost weight, and did great on the mountain. He truly lives strong.
I could go on and on, but I think it’s that last point that really taught me something; it’s important to “show up,” to find something you’re passionate about, and to give it your all.
Danny showed me the value in dedicating oneself to a good cause. So, many thanks to Danny for helping me understand this great lesson! And thanks for such a fun climb, too! Today, I climb for Danny.
This post is the first of my “Why I Climb” series since I’ve gotten back from the climb…
I’ve decided that I’m going to blog a little bit about each of my teammates, because after meeting them all, I truly love them for everything they have to offer. Each of them taught me something important, and for that, I am thankful.
Today, I climb for my teammate, Chasse Bailey-Dorton. Chasse is a mom, ten year breast cancer survivor, and according to her, a “damn good doctor” (and trust me, it’s true!). She went from “bald to buff” over this past decade. She completed her chemo and radiation treatments years ago, and now she regularly participates in triathlons and races with faster times than someone half her age. Simply put, Chasse is a badass.
Chasse nicknamed me “short stride” because of my petite stature. I would often amble along in front of her and act as a little canary to find any shifty rocks ahead of her. When I’d bite the dust or wobble a bit, Chasse would be at the ready with a witty comment. She always kept me laughing and in high spirits, even on summit day, when we were all woofing down Ibuprofen like candy to fight off altitude headaches.
I think I have two favorite experiences with Chasse. First: climbing down into the valley after Lava Tower. There were some steep parts, slick ice, and crazy rocks that made heading down the path a little uncomfortable. Thank goodness Chasse was there, cracking jokes to my backpack as I tried not to faceplant.
Second: when we all got back from the climb, our Earth Treks guides, Chris Warner and Nelson Laur, had all of us sit together and talk about the journey. In her southern drawl, Chasse eloquently pointed out that this trip was a metaphor for cancer. Like a “mountain,” cancer can be scary and filled with uncertainty, but there are experienced “guides” (doctors) there to help, as well as “teammates” who offer support (LIVESTRONG, family, and friends).
Chasse’s good attitude, straight-shooting perspective, wry sense of humor, and insightful comments inspired me to climb Kilimanjaro. I hope to carry these awesome traits with me whenever I encounter a challenge in my life. I’m so happy we had a chance to meet; today and every day, I climb for Chasse.
New York Times blogger Suleika Jaouad writes about the internal conflict she’s had with the word, “survivor.” She’s adept at pointing out that her journey is very personal, and may not apply to others’ experiences with cancer. And while she navigates through some sobering feelings, she also shares how thankful she’s been for the past year: “For the first time since my diagnosis, I felt a sense of elation and accomplishment as I reflected on all that I had survived in the past year—all that we, as a community, had made it through. Today, it’s been 92 days since my transplant. While my doctors say that my recovery from the transplant is going as well as can be, the threat of relapse is never far from my mind…I’m still anxious about calling myself a “survivor,” but I’m unbelievably grateful to have survived my transplant. I’m still here. And that means I can continue to figure out what surviving means to me.”
My teammate, Amy Bartlett, a Non-Hodgkin’s Lymphoma cancer survivor, recently likened our climb of Kilimanjaro to fighting cancer. She says, “you see, unbeknownst to me, this entire trip was a metaphor for a journey with cancer….a mountain seems impossible if you just look at the mountain (cancer). It is unfamiliar & scary territory until you get experienced guides (doctors) and break it down by day/milestone. People want to be on your team to support you (family, friends). The patient wants to do it—climb the mountain—in their own style and pace. Achieving your goals takes teamwork. This is LIVESTRONG: it’s your life, you will have it your way.” Well said, Amy! I know our teammate, Chasse Bailey-Dorton, a breast cancer survivor, made the same comparison, too.
My teammates and I worked together before, during, and after the climb, never losing sight of our mission. And we were rewarded with a once-in-a-lifetime experience and a lifelong bond we’ll never forget. All in all, it feels really good to know we helped other cancer fighters and survivors on their own journeys with this disease; Survivor Summit raised over $200,000 for cancer programs and services at LIVESTRONG!
The link above is a profound blog post from the 501 (c)(3) non-profit, Students of the World. It reminds me of an excellent lesson one often learns from traveling: “we’re so fascinated by these people from the other side of the globe but we often forget that at the core we are all the same.” Amen to that. I’ll be sure to elaborate on this lesson in an upcoming post on Elevated, and relate it to my Kilimanjaro climb and visit to Tanzania.
This blog rings so true for me right now. Ilan Stavans and Joshua Ellison write about how traveling deepens our understanding of the world, as they claim that “our wandering is meant to lead back toward ourselves. This is the paradox: we set out on adventures to gain deeper access to ourselves; we travel to transcend our own limitations. Travel should be an art through which our restlessness finds expression. We must bring back the idea of travel as a search.”
“Why don’t you stay in the wilderness? Because that isn’t where it is at; it’s back in the city, back in downtown St. Louis, back in Los Angeles. The final test is whether your experience of the sacred in nature enables you to cope more effectively with the problems of people. If it does not enable you to cope more effectively with the problems—and sometimes it doesn’t, it sometimes sucks you right out into the wilderness and you stay there the rest of your Life—then when that happens, by my scale of value; it’s failed. You go to nature for an experience of the sacred…to re-establish your contact with the core of things, where it’s really at, in order to enable you to come back to the world of people and operate more effectively. Seek ye first the kingdom of nature, that the kingdom of man might be realized.”—Willi Unsoeld, Spiritual Values in Wilderness. After our climb of Kilimanjaro, one of our expedition leaders, Chris Warner, referenced Unsoeld and told our team that the success of our climb will not be based on the fact that we all summitted. Rather, the true measure of success will be rooted in how our team takes the lessons we all learned during our time together on the mountain. As such, we will work hard to engage in our day-to-day lives with a lot of love, compassion, appreciation, and kindness.