by Michelle Sutton-Kerchner
Seventy years old and climbing Mt. Kilimanjaro? You bet! Here’s how she did it …
Member Susan always enjoyed climbing and hiking. Her life in Colorado provided many opportunities. Although not highly technical climbs, she loved the thrill of reaching the peak.
Friends inspired Susan to consider climbing Mt. Kilimanjaro. Over 19,000 feet, it is the tallest peak in Africa. This climb became Susan’s dream.
What It Takes
After digesting the awe of this feat, we immediately wonder: How can it be done? One does not set out to climb such a force of nature and expect to return by dinner. Rather, such an event is demanding, time consuming, and life-changing. It requires extensive planning and training.
Prior to this climb, Susan worked with a trainer for overall fitness. She became a member when the Center opened. A psychologist, Susan spends much of her work day seated. She wanted to increase her daily movement, improve her balance, and strength train for stronger muscles and bones. Her initial goal was to improve her fitness level and health as she aged.
Tackling Mt. Kilimanjaro became her new goal. She needed someone to challenge her workouts. For two years, she worked with Personal Trainer Lou. They tackled all aspects of fitness, including endurance, cardio, and strength training. They developed strategies. Susan even worked out with a weighted backpack.
“Adding that focus [Mt. Kilimanjaro] to my training was extremely helpful. During the six months approaching the climb, my workouts were very specifically targeted. Training became even more meaningful once I had this purpose,” shares Susan.
Thanks to this dedicated training, Susan felt very prepared. Confident and worry-free, she could enjoy the climb as what she calls a “life-enhancing experience.”
The Climb Itself
Aside from training, hikes and climbs of this magnitude usually require an accredited professional organization to help with the journey. They do essential research to assure the safest, most prepared experience possible. During the trip, they provide support, helping with everything from medical needs to trail navigation.
Susan made the climb with four younger climbers, including her sister-in-law (Theresa) and a dear friend. The five were joined by 26 staff members from the organization! This professional team helped carry gear, set up camp (including a pop-up shower), and monitor health status. A trained medic was among them to check their lungs twice daily for signs of pulmonary edema. This life-threatening condition can occur at high altitudes.
“At high altitudes, breathing is the struggle,” informs Susan. This is one aspect of the climb that cannot be simulated during training. The ability to compensate for changing oxygen levels varies by individual. Unlike leg muscles or core work, it is not something you can strengthen. Even Susan required a brief dose of oxygen to combat dizziness before their descent. She assures us she still felt strong.
Susan felt this strain near the summit. “It was an effort to breathe as I approached the peak, where there was little oxygen. But, I never felt like I would not make it to the top.”
On the last day, Susan admits promising her body she would never tackle Mt. Kilimanjaro again. However, upon checking this off her bucket list, she is now ready to repeat the climb using a new trail to the top. Susan also is considering Mt. Fuji in the fall. And, why not! She had the strength and endurance needed for 11 days on Mt. Kilimanjaro. And, she notes, she reached the summit with “energy to spare.”
Advice from Dr. Susan, PhD
In addition to realizing her own dreams, Susan’s profession qualifies her to share strategies for achieving big goals.
- Determine the reason for your goal. Why is this your dream? Sit quietly and analyze what this is about for you.
- Research the steps required. Talk with others who have succeeded. Once you reduce fear of the unknown, you can focus on the adventure of the experience.
- What does your body and mind need to do? Train for it. Trainer Lou customized a fitness program to accommodate Susan and her specific goal. His motivation and support also went a long way up that mountain.
- View life as an adventure. There is always excitement to be accomplished, at any age.
Perhaps Susan’s best shared wisdom after this arduous thrill of a lifetime: Focus on the journey to assure the destination is magical.