In the Spring of 2010, I had just returned from climbing Mount Kilimanjaro. Standing at 19,341 feet, Kili is the highest mountain in Africa and the fourth highest of the seven summits. If someone had told me a few years earlier that I would be sleeping in a tent at 15,000 feet, not showering for 9 days and walking 8 hours a day, I would have laughed and laughed. I’m not really an outdoorsy girl. I don’t mind hiking or camping for a night, but Kili is way outside my little scope of adventure. Maybe that’s why Kilimanjaro began calling my name – because I had something to learn from the experience.
I first heard about the mountain while training Jessica Biel on The A-Team. She was preparing to do it – and my ego said I could do it too. The first days were incredible: body felt strong, mind felt clear and spirits were high. Day 3 was a bit more strenuous. My body felt achy and tired, but the adventure still felt doable. My mind had relaxed by this point – no more stress or anticipation. I didn’t have any headaches and, overall, I felt strong. And, what’s more, the mountain was in sight for the first time.
But then Day 4 came and, with it, the first signs of altitude sickness and a blinding headache. And then on Day 5, I awoke to the worst stomachache I’d ever had – similar to having food poisoning. The diarrhea began, the dehydration followed and I felt completely weak and disheartened. But that little voice inside my head kept talking to me, telling to keep going, driving my body forward.
Our guide warned me that he would decide the following morning if I could manage the final summit climb of 8 hours up and 3 hours down. I felt wretched. All I could do was pray. I was truly at the end of my rope – so prayer was my only option. It was 10pm when I closed my eyes and 4am when I opened them. I sat up in the tent, turned on my headlamp and waited for that familiar abdominal pain. But I waited and…I stood up….and nothing! I moved my arms, bent over and stretched – all with no pain! I couldn’t understand it. No one else could believe it.
On the walk up the mountain, my strength continued to return. At the top, we took our pictures, and I could smile and joke around. We took another day and a half to walk down the mountain; and then, back at my hotel the next day, I awoke to that same familiar stomachache. It continued for the next three weeks, and even infected my boyfriend who came to join me. Why it left me for that crucial climb to the summit, I will never know.
I think it was a combination of prayer and my inner strength that just wouldn’t give up. It was nothing short of a miracle for me. I still get goose bumps when I think about it…