I’m not sure what came over me when I applied to climb Kilimanjaro with KDA. I only knew that if I was accepted, it would be a new adventure with a supportive group of people that would help me get there. My initial feelings when considering kidney donation were similar. I had the same enticing fear of the unknown with no knowledge of what was coming and no previous experience to draw from. When I received the Embark Kilimanjaro resource information with the required preparation and gear, I realized I was woefully unprepared- no hiking or camping experience and no gear! I continued to move faithfully forward conquering one fear at a time and doing my best to prepare. As time and preparation moved me closer to the ultimate goal (kidney donation and Kilimanjaro), I know in my heart that I was called to this positive life-changing experience. What I’ve experienced as a kidney donor is that improving and prolonging another life enriches the life of the donor as much as the recipient. All positive experience with not a single downside or lifestyle impact for the donor. My goal for the climb is to be part of the KDA group that shares that message with all potential donors. More living donors = more saved lives!
Similar to the confidence that grew with every successful medical evaluation in the kidney donor qualification process, I’ve moved through the uncomfortable new process of fundraising, media promotion, and miles of long hikes, learning valuable lessons and gaining confidence through each experience.
My first training adventure was a three-day backpacking trip in September with two experienced hiking friends in the Colorado backcountry. Hiking with a 35-pound pack, new boots, a new inflatable pad, a rented sleeping bag, and lots of borrowed camping gear presented more challenges than I’d anticipated. I learned that sharing a tent, sleeping in a mummy bag with a small hard camp pillow, tossing, turning, and worrying about keeping my friend up all night resulted in two nights of zero sleep. I survived the weekend but came home exhausted with a black toenail and wondering how I could endure eight nights of camping with no sleep on a mountain in Africa.
The next challenging training event was a one-day 19-mile hike in October from the South Rim of the Grand Canyon to the bottom and back up. After multiple running and cycling injuries and surgeries on my foot, knee, and hip, I knew that hiking downhill would be a bigger obstacle for me than hiking uphill. Hiking down 5000 feet in the Grand Canyon on fresh legs after a full night’s sleep gave me an appreciation for the planned Kilimanjaro summit day of hiking up for seven or eight hours followed by twice the elevation drop, all in one day on tired legs without much if any sleep.
Similar to the kidney donor qualification process, when I successfully completed the most significant hurdles in my training, the fear of the unknown was replaced with excited anticipation and unexpected joy! Hiking with boots, crampons, and poles through snow and ice over rocky boulders was a new challenge for me. With snowshoe running, I can stay warm with thin gloves and a light jacket even in below zero temperatures. My winter hike training required a lot more gear including warm mittens, top, and bottom layering, and a protective face covering. With my new winter hiking gear, I was able to comfortably enjoy all-day hikes on icy, rocky trails that are not accessible running in snowshoes. A truly magical winter wonderland that was beyond beautiful.
As a 60-year-old runner and triathlete, I had no idea that donating my extra kidney would open so many doors to meeting new friends and experiencing new adventures. If I hadn’t donated my kidney, I would have never tried backpack camping, never hiked the Grand Canyon, never appreciated the beauty of winter hiking and certainly never would have considered climbing Kilimanjaro.
More information about living kidney donation and Kidney Donor Athletes can be found at kidneyregistry.org and kidneydonorathlete.org.