As the Olympic Trials are taking place it made me think of our team that climbed Mount Kilimanjaro. Although more like our own Special Olympics, we are still athletes and encountered many trials along the way.
I thought since I shared my story, it was time to share the teams story, each in their own words about thier summit day!!
"After a goodnights sleep, 3 hours, I was ready to go. I didn't feel much like eating but was ready to start out. I wasn't cold so I started in my sweatshirt and light layers. We headed to the same altitude that we hiked to the day before, 16,030 feet, but this time I was having waves of nausea. All I could do was stop and the nausea would stop, then take a step till I felt I would almost throw up but stop again. Although the guides advised us 'if you feel like throwing up...throw up' (simple advice) but I didn't want to throw up all the pasta from the night before!! I thought to myself...if I feel like this all the way I am gonna quit!! SO I started praying...praying for my kids, and grandkids and all the trials they have gone through and for strength for all the trials they will endure. Amazingly...my mind was off the nausea and I was in the zone and making it up the switchbacks. I started getting cold so I added a few more layers and started power breathing. It was harder than I ever imagined. Every step I would power breathe...every hour I would think I was almost there and realized I wasn't even close. I looked up once and saw a ton of stars only to realize they were headlamps all the way up the mountain and I wasn't even close to the top. My decision...to NEVER look up...keep looking at my feet...one step in front of the other. I put my head down and made it to Gilmans point and saw Uhuru peak. I thought 'yesss...so close' BUT noooooo it wasn't. Over 2 hours left to hike, tired...tired of waiting...tired of everything. I put my mind in gear and powered through. I was GOING to do this. I ended up passing by 50 people and made it to the sign. I put my backpack down and waited for Audrey and the rest of the team. I felt elated...sooo very REWARDING. Now to go down...the same way we came up!! I passed by Dom who was throwing up but I didn't have time to stop. Call it the compassion in me. The greatest relief was to see Uncle Dan at Gilmans point heading to Uhuru...all Uncle Dan said was 'I just can't get enough Oxygen'. I loved going down...skiing down the loose gravel and shale. I think I flew down 2000 meters in 15 minutes- AMAZING! I felt for us as a couple it was so rewarding. Getting to be with Audrey at the top and both of us feeling so good was incredibly meaningful. We were happy to make it to Kibo Hut and venture the next 9 miles to camp for the night. Although super tired we made it to camp and were more than HAPPY the summit day was behind us!! We did it!"
"I slept good the night before, even had a nap in the afternoon..which was awesome cause we had had a few nights of not sleeping well.
I was anxious to put the summit behind me so I could move forward and truly enjoy the rest of our African experience. I remember Dan saying as we started the hike, that he was gonna throw up. I kept thinking 'What if he does get sick will I go on?' My focus was praying for him...to ask God to help him and to feel better. From that point on, when I thought I couldn't go on...I would thank God for my heart, lungs and head...the entire trek to the top, I would continually pray that. I realized God was in charge of every breath of my life...All I could do was recite in my head Psalm 139:14 "I will praise you because we are fearfully and wonderfully made."
An amazing moment was when we all came together before the steepest ascend...all of the headlamps up above that seemed never ending and seeing the people in our group that were starting to feel the effects of the altitude, especially Dominique. I didn't have a headache or any other issues - I could see where having anxiety could affect your breathing but I continually prayed and focused on each breath - and putting one foot in front of the other. Trying not to be overwhelmed by the endless trek. But there was no turning around, we had to keep going. 'Are those headlights or the stars? Don't look up!!' Finally I reached the TOP but not Uhuru Peak...my breathing was still tough. Although the guides kept encouraging us that it would get easier it was kind of a false sense of hope. The Uhuru sign seemed miles away and we were only inching towards it.
Slowly but surely we trudged along, and although tough the scenery was phenomenal...
At this point Dom was pretty sick but it actually helped distract me from how I was feeling...I was trying to keep my focus and mental balance so I just passed him. :) As we got closer to the sign Dan pushed me...telling me to put my head down and keep going. He took off ahead of me and I kept praying. It took me over half an hour from that point "Pole Pole" (slowly slowly in Swahili). We only had 15 min at the top so I was kind of worried Dan would have to leave before I arrived but Dan made it to the sign and videoed us as we made it there. I will never forget getting our pictures at the sign....SOOO emotional, we all cried "Can you believe we made it?" As if saying it out loud would make it more real! I was so proud...Dan & I did it together!! All of our training and hard work paid off. As we stood there I got a slight headache and figured we needed to head down. The guides were saying we would feel better as we headed down...but it wasn't getting better. As we started skiing down on the gravel I started to increasingly feel better. I had this experience where Dom yelled at me...warning me that a boulder was coming right for me...I moved to my right and this huge rock went bounding past me...'whew'!! But now its heading to Pat & Dan but they couldn't hear us yelling...thankfully it stopped before it got to them. You realize you are at the mercy of the mountain...a new level of vulnerability. When we got to the next stop it hit me that this day is not over yet. Although still emotional and hardly believing 'WE MADE IT', we headed to our camp for the night. Dan and I walked and walked the next 9 miles making it to camp, thankful the day was behind us. We slept so well that night and I was continually thanking God for the whole experience but ready for what Africa had waiting for us!!!"
"I felt a bit of nausea and dizziness as I headed to the top. At one point I went to sit down but missed the rock...I didn't think anyone saw me till Dan gave me a hardtime about it. I guess it didn't go unnoticed! I blame it on the lack of oxygen! It certainly, most definitely was the hardest thing I have ever done. Would I do it again? Probably not!"
FYI - Pat is a man of few words but much wisdom!!
"We headed to bed about 7pm hoping to sleep before our wakeup call at 11pm...unfortunately there was no sleep for me. I had quite a bit of anxiety about leaving and about the journey ahead especially since I was already finding the lack of oxygen a challenge. We got ready to leave at midnight and didn't realize how dark it would be. Of course we had our headlamps but it was dark. All I could do was concentrate...one foot in front of the other...step by step. I didn't have altitude sickness but the hike became increasingly more difficult. The 'switchbacks' (which were basically a straight up trail with minor zig zags) were TOUGH! I made it to Gilmans point and was relieved...thinking 'I made it to the top', not believing that the next 200 meters would take me over 2 hours. 'One foot in front of the other' was all I could do and repeat to myself over and over. My guide was even having his own difficulties so I knew getting to the top was not going to be EASY!! After the 'switchbacks' I knew I could make it to Uhuru Peak but I have to admit it's the hardest thing I have ever done physically!! Not only physically difficult but it was more emotional at the top than I expected. I was so happy to accomplish this as it was my personal best. Coming down was fast but harder than anticipated. I thought I would feel better as soon as I started coming down but nope...it didn't really happen that fast although I came down 2000 meters in a short time. After a bit of rest we were told of our 5 mile walk to the next camp...I was still not breathing easily and after about 9 miles into the 5 mile walk I was ready to reach camp and sleep! I am so glad I did it, and thrilled I made the summit, but will never do it again!"
"As I got up to Gilmans point I had a mixture of feelings...Euphoria & Dread...I had this beautiful view in front of me but then I saw how much further Uhuru Peak was and had that sinking feeling in my gut of how much farther I had to go. I have to give special credit to my guide & friend Frank...When I couldn't get enough air in I would have to stop and take a few deep breaths and he was so patient with me. I would go 25-30 feet then have to stop and breathe...step then breathe. It made me feel better that others seemed to be having the same issue :) The zig zags were not much of a zig zag more of a straight line with a bit of a side step, and again when looking up, the headlamps never seemed to end so I had to stop looking up. I have to say at 70 years old, it's up there with one of the most difficult things I have ever done. All in all a WONDERFUL experience."
"We (Unlce Dan, guides and I) left an hour before the rest of the group...and had 3 amazing guides that would keep telling us to slow down and to make sure we were catching our breath. The hardest part for me was not the straight up, it was the gravel...I would take one step up then slide 2 boot lengths back. Just when I thought I couldn't go up anymore I would look down and think 'I can't go down either'!! Thanks to our guides for being so encouraging and keeping us going the entire time. I got a bit sick at the top, dizzy and super cold!! Probably the coldest I have ever been in my life. I was able to ski down the gravel with 2 guys on each arm which was fun. I think the hike after the climb was the hardest...walking miles over the dry river bed almost killed me but I did it!! Pretty much the hardest thing I have ever done in my life BUT I made it!! I made it to Gilmans point!!!"
"I got up at 10:30pm...I was excited to just DO IT. I had it in my mind the anticipation of making the summit for so long, and finally the day was here! I wore everything I brought...5-6 layers!! We headed up, it was dark but we had our headlamps and just started, one foot in front of the other!! I didn't end up taking the altitude sickness medication cause I had no symptoms or issues with altitude up to this point. I felt great and after consulting with the guides they were fine with my decision. After about 4 hours into the climb I was feeling kind of tired, it was tough going, slow, and hard to make solid footing through the zig zags. After making it to one of the top points I started to vomit. Things weren't quite right, everything was kind of cloudy in my brain, fuzzy! I kept telling myself 'no big deal, I can do this'. I looked around the corner and it was soooo much farther than I thought to Uhuru peak. We are above the clouds and you can see the curvature of earth with the horizon, it was amazing. But again the sickness kind of hit me hard. My guide, Deo, inched me on. If it wasn't for him I wouldn't have made it. He pushed me. It was agony but he would egg me on and because of him I made it. It was pretty emotional once we reached the sign. I had anticipated in my mind that the best part would be coming down. Walking around the ridge of the mountain. We had the best weather and what should've been the best walk of my life was a walk of hell for me. My brain was still fuzzy, I had neasea, and was continually throwing up. It's so different than you think. You can watch movies, train, try to mentally prepare but it's so different when you actually do it and it's YOU going through it!! It was good to get to the first stop but even after resting a bit, the next 5-10 miles were definitely hard BUT a good time to reflect on what we just accomplished. I don't think I am going to become a climber but I could see God's hand all over this trip and am thankful for all that I experienced."
"Arlene was feeling pretty ill. Fainting, throwing up, diarrhea...not fun!!! We were hoping to head out to summit at 4am but she was still feeling so faint there was no way we could summit. She wanted me to go and I think the crew wanted me to go without her but there was no way I was leaving her. We ended up getting up at 7am, had some breakfast and started hiking down to the lower camp. We basically hiked across Africa to the trail the rest of the team would later follow. It was a fairly level trail but a long hike for the day. We got into camp and were able to rest. Then the cooks set up a little table and we were able to have a little date dinner then rest a bit more before everyone else started to arrive. Dan & Audrey were the first to arrive into camp and the first thing said was 'that was not 5 miles, more like 9-10'. We were so fortunate to have a cook & guide come with us. We were treated very well...I don't regret the decision I made. We did this trip together and for me it was about the journey...doing it together!! I didn't struggle with altitude at all...and happy to have made it higher than Mount Rainier to 16,030 feet. Maybe I will come back one day and climb with my girls but I don't think I will get Arlene here again...probably not in a tent again either!!"
What a great team!!!
If you missed it, read my story here...