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.