Why We Choose to Climb - The Back Story : We Choose To Climb
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Why We Choose to Climb - The Back Story

by Shana Ross on 07/06/11

The Project is Born

In September 2011, a group of amazing women, all having faced or facing serious challenges in their lives, will band together to climb Mt. Kilimanjaro. The one tie that binds each of these women to the other is her drive and determination to not let adversity, illness, injury, obesity and life-altering events stand in the way of living life to its fullest.

This endeavor was inspired by my long-time client Becky Pope. I first met Becky in 2006 when she and her partner Pam hired me as their fitness coach. They wanted to lose weight, learn better nutritional habits and just get in overall better shape so that they could enjoy two of their hobbies -- biking and hiking. We got to work and they both saw results and embarked on several hiking trips and trained for and participated in multi-day charitable bike rides. They worked with me for a couple of years, learned a great deal, and went out on their own to continue living healthier lives.

Diagnosis: Cancer
In early 2009, I got a phone call from Becky. She asked if I had some time to meet with her and shared with me that she'd had a major health challenge and wanted to talk with me about helping her with her recovery.

On the day of our meeting, Becky walked into my studio. My heart skipped a beat when I saw the bald head and much thinner person in front of me. The words "stage 3 ovarian cancer" hit me hard and set me back on my heels. I hugged her. We both shed a few uncharacteristic tears since we're both "tough" women who hold our emotions neatly tucked away from plain sight. She wanted to know if I could help her in her recovery. She was twelve weeks out from her hysterectomy and her doctor had okayed her to begin light exercise.

So we began. Her determination was an awesome thing to behold. She finished her chemotherapy and onward we marched. Each check-up was approached with optimism and she became stronger each month.

In late 2010, about 18 months after she had been declared cancer free, Becky's blood counts went haywire; PET scans showed "hot spots" which were confirmed with an MRI. Diagnosis -- the cancer had returned.

The holidays for Becky brought a new round of chemo treatments. She continued her work outs, missing very few days. She continued working and living a life with optimism, jumor and zest and once again, Becky has been given the "all clear" sign. Her workout are progressing and her outlook on life is phenomenal.

In February, Becky asked if I would help her train for her next adventure. I said, "Sure, what are you going to do this time?" She looked at me with this little mischievous smile she has and said, "Well, Pam and I are going to climb Mr. Kilimanjaro." I was stunned.

Kilimanjaro: The Next Adventure
Becky has just finished chemotherapy, was bald as Mr. Clean and had a boot cast on one foot because of a tendon issue. I knew that I could not let this story go untold. I had been working on a book idea for awhile and knew, the minute Becky mentioned the mountain, that I had a story that must be shared. I took a few days to think things over and then I approached Becky and told her my thoughts of the book and how if we included others with similar stories, we could craft an inspiring tale with the potential to help so many facing their own challenges -- their own Kilimanjaro. Becky, of course, was gung-ho thumbs up and responded with her usual "let's do it" approach.

My first concern was the date set for the climb -- September 2011. I asked if the trip could be postponed to have more time to pull the project together. But alas, that option wasn't available as Becky has subsequent trips planned and postponing Kilimanjaro now would mean not having the opporutnity again for three years. And Becky is determined to live every moment to its fullest. The fact that other trips were already on the book did not surprise me.

Hence, the time is now, and the time is short. But, as "they" say -- there's no time like the present. The team is assembled. We're making this happen.

In my role as a fitness coach and personal trainer, I've had the enormous privilege of helping hundreds of people transform their lives through better health over the past 13 years. But seven women, in addition to Becky, stand out. Each of these women came to me missing something in her life. A certain spark had disappeared. They were, in a compilation of their words, "sick and tired of being sick and tired, depressed, angry, disgusted, irrelevant, lost, fat and hopeless, bitter, at the end of the rope, confused, worn down." During the initial consult with me, more than one cried.

Today, five of the seven are still training with me and my trainers. The other two keep in touch, and one dropped by my studio in January to show her medal to me for fininshing her first marathon (after dropping 45 pounds and 20 percentage ponts of body fat). She took a carefully wrapped object from her purse and as she unwrapped it she said, "I just wanted to come by and show this to you because you're the reason I have it. My life has done a 180 and it's because of you and your staff that I'm a different person today." I hugged her tightly as tears welled in my eyes.

The stories are varied, all beginning with the women coming face to face with the fact that they weren't living the life they could be. They each decided to attack from the trenches instead of looking for the easy wasy out or trying to find someone or something to blame. They took hard looks at themselves and put in the work to change the image staring back.

How The Story Will Live On
My book (working title "We Choose to Climb") will chronicle the lives of each of these women and reveal how they have persevered through illness, obesity, addiction, injury, low self esteem and life changes revolving around career. It is important to me to help more people than my limited reach through my studio allows. And I didn't want to write another exercise/nutrition do's and don'ts book from the viewpoint of another expert -- there are thousands of those already. I want this story told from the viewpoint of those who are making a conscious decision to live healthier lives each day. Some days, they do exceedingly well. Other days aren't so great.

On the not so great days, though, they understand that this is for the long haul. They've stopped the diet mentality; they don't look at having a treat as having "blown it." They are making a new commitment each day to do the best they can to live healthier, happier, more vibrant lives. Their stories are inspirational, poignant, funny, revealing -- but most of all -- real. This is not a Holloywood story and there is no fairy tale ending. This is life as real as it gets.

And now, these women (average age 52) are banding together to conquer the challenge of climbing the world's tallest free-standing mountain with the message to other women and men that no matter the challenge, no matter the age, we are all capable of setting goals and reaching them. Menopause take a chill pill, arthrities take a seat, cancer take a hike, HIV get out of the way, injuries piss off, obesity be damned. We've taken charge and are ready for life's challenges.

Bring on the mountain. We Choose to Climb.

Comments (4)

1. Stacie I said on 8/23/11 - 08:36AM
I just have to let all of you know that i think you are amazing. My mom was 37 when she got diagnosed with stage 4 cancer. I have personally watched the everday struggle to survive. And to overcome that and not only survive but Live is truely inspiring. My mom lost her battle 2 years ago at the age of 40. I feel very connected to these women and their strength and i will praying not only for their health but also a successful journey.
2. Eric Ruth said on 8/23/11 - 10:45AM
Shana and WCTC crew, ROCK ON LADIES! I'm inspired by you all. May God bless you all on your journey and beyond. Looking forward to seeing pictures from the summit. - Eric
3. Twaillah Clark-Sims said on 8/29/11 - 08:20PM
I am so happy to say I have had the honor to have met Becky in this story ... and I'm cheering her on to her goal! What an amazing woman!! Write that book!!!! I can not wait to see how this story comes to a wonderful start to a new story!
4. Michelle Gardineer said on 9/19/11 - 04:22AM
You set an example of courage and hope. I hope you all find what you seek mutliplied by 1000. You have lifted my spirits and helped me see there is greatness in us all.


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Please visit the OCNA website and learn how to recognize the warning signs of Ovarian Cancer. They are subtle and often overlooked.