Mancuso completes lofty mission
On Tuesday, June 10, Olympic giant slalom champion Julia Mancuso of Olympic Valley reached another historical summit in her career ” Africa’s Mount Kilimanjaro. Along with World Cup colleagues Lauren Ross and Chemmy Alcott of Great Britain, she reached the 19,340-foot peak of Africa’s highest mountain.
Mancuso, a member of the U.S. Ski Team, won the Olympic gold medal in giant slalom in the 2006 Olympic Winter Games and has 19 World Cup podium finishes, four of which are wins, and has been on the podium three times at World Championships. She battled for the World Cup title each of the last two years.
The journey was originally intended to raise money and awareness for Right to Play, an international organization focused on bringing sport to underdeveloped communities.
“It’s funny how things in life turn out so very different than what was expected,” Mancuso wrote in a blog on http://www.juliamancuso.com after the climb. “When I first signed up for the climb, I had no idea what I was getting into. To be honest, I thought it was going to be another challenge that I would cruise through and conquer without a problem.”
The challenge grew on May 31, when on the morning Mancuso was set to leave for Africa she received news that Betsy Watson, her 58-year-old grandmother, had lost a four-and-a-half-year battle to lung cancer. For Mancuso, Watson was “Grandmother Tutu,” the nickname she lovingly called her. She was also a mentor and became an inspiration for the journey.
“Betsy loved the outdoors and was so gung-ho about going over my kit list with me and giving me her advice,” Mancuso said before setting off for the mountain. “She told me to bring some walking sticks, so she left hers at the house for me. I didn’t end up taking them, but now I wish I could have brought them up for her. Instead, I am going to do better and carry her up there with me.”
Three days later, she tied on her hiking boots for the first time in Africa and began climbing.
Kilimanjaro is a dormant volcano, rising from agricultural land at approximately 6,500 feet through a mix of rain forest, moorland, alpine desert, snowfields and ice cliffs ” all virtually on the equator. Germans Dr. Hans Meyer and Ludwig Purtscheller first achieved the summit in 1889 in a trip that lasted six weeks. Today, roughly 22,000 attempt to conquer the peak annually in a week’s time, though 40 percent turn back.
Mancuso recalled her grandmother telling her while on a phone conversation before the trip, “You know Jules, just because you’ll be at the equator, doesn’t mean that it can’t get pretty darn cold.”
Miles from the summit the team began experiencing shortness of breath. The following day, a member of the group entered the beginning stages of acute mountain sickness (AMS), caused by low air pressure.
“Day three was tough!” Mancuso wrote on June 9. “The full intensity of the day becomes clear when you take a look at the state of our party: one has tummy issues, another has blocked sinuses, one AMS and another rolled her ankles several times! We sleep some 11 hours a night ” crazy but necessary.”
After fighting cramps, headaches, lightheadedness and fatigue, Mancuso, Ross and Alcott arrived at the summit on June 10, raising over $30,000 for Right to Play. While there, she ceremoniously held a flag for her grandmother. It read “I’ll be thinking of your everlasting POSITIVITY as I push for the summit. With every step you’ve encouraged me! I will shine your light and keep shining!”
Following the successful summit, the team visited Right to Play camps in Dar es Salaam, Tanzania, signed autographs and spoke with the smiling children. It was just one of the many victories garnered from the journey.
A day later, she reflected.
“Wow, it’s amazing how a journey that I thought would be a cinch to handle and conquer nonchalantly, became something that stretched me to new limits; limits of perspective, of pain threshold, of awareness and gratitude, of compassion, giving and reciprocation.
“Who knew that pain could bring about such riches and richness?”