Martina and the Mountain

Martina Navratilova attempts to climb Mt. Kilimanjaro

Last week  Martina Navratilova talked about her attempt to climb Mt. Kilimanjaro and the challenges that forced her to turn back.  She had decided to climb the mountain in an attempt to raise funds and awareness for the Laureus Sport for Good Foundation.  But after months of training, and even a hike up the Bank of America Tower in NYC, she was forced to turn back before the summit. What makes this story so inspirational is not that Martina failed.  But that she had the courage to stop and go down when it was wise to do so.  Anyone familiar with Martina’s past tennis record knows that she clearly has two of the three necessary assets to climb a mountain, mental and physical strength.  She was an aggressive competitor and one who clearly didn’t know the meaning of quitting.  And even before the climb started Martina commented that she would be mortified if, for some reason, she had to turn back. So why would this physically and mentally strong competitor choose to “quit?”  Because it was the right decision.  Martina was suffering from an advanced and potentially deadly form of altitude sickness called High Altitude Pulmonary Edema (HAPE).  Aside from the usual headaches, nausea, exhaustion and dizziness, Martina’s lungs were filling with fluid making it even harder to breath than normal.  If a climber continues to ascend into thinner air the risk of death grows with each step up the mountain. There are three important ingredients to climbing a mountain: physical strength, mental strength and your body’s natural ability to adjust to altitude.  And while Martina clearly has the first two, it appears that her body simply does not adjust well to altitude.  Given she was struck with HAPE as low as 14,000 feet above sea level it appears that her body was not built for high altitude, and no amount of training canovercome that. But to look on her climb as a failure is to miss the bigger picture.  She is close to reaching her goal of over $100,000 for the Mathare Youth Soccer Association and other programs in Africa.  And she succeeded in bringing awareness to not only their cause, but the risks of climbing major mountains.  Given what a fierce competitor she is its all the more amazing that she had the courage to turn back when it was prudent to do so.  Thank you Martina for setting another standard for others to follow!
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One Comment

  1. Lulu
    December 20, 2010 | Permalink

    Three years ago this week (2007),I also had to turn back on the last night of the climb due to what i thought at the time was merely mental weakness..I had altitude sickness and was taking meds for it so symptoms were gone but my body was (I think ) still fighting it unbeknownst to me. I turned back at 3AM knowing that the rest of my friends would be at the summit in 3.5 hrs. This was one of the hardest decisions I’ve had to make as it has been one of my lifelong dreams to summit Kili! I’m still not sure if it was mental weakness of if truly I could have done bigger damage going on…I was nowhere as sick as MN was but def feel part of her pain..! I still plan on returning. to conquer it!:)

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