I am glad the flags flew at the summit.

Cristina climbing Kilimanjaro with prayer flags for Newtown victims
Like so many people across the world, the Newtown shootings shook Cristina Nelson to the core and like so many; she wanted to help in some way. She was set to climb Kilimanjaro just a week after the shootings and did so with a special tribute packed in her bags. Her story follows.

On the Sunday after the December 14th shootings, I attended mass, as I do weekly. We were all upset about Newtown, and I mentioned this to my chaplain – how devastated and numb I felt, how I wish that there were something I could do.  Her response was to tell me to dedicate my trek to those children, and so I did. “Walk it for the children,” she said.

I also got Tibetan Buddhist prayer flags and wrote the names of each of the children on the flags and planned to let them fly when I reached the “Roof of Africa”.  It was very meaningful, especially being able to do something with purpose in the face of a tragedy. I often thought of those children as I climbed.

Prayer flags for victims of Newtown at the summit of Kilimanjaro
Cristina wrote the names of all 26 victims from the tragedy in Newtown, Connecticut
on the prayer flags.

Unfortunately, on the last day of the trek, just 2000 vertical feet from the summit, altitude sickness forced me to turn back. I was very disappointed, of course. But I handed the flags to a father and son in my trekking group from Dothan, Alabama. They reached the top, unfurled the flags and the tribute was seen to its fruition.

In addition to the mountain staff being so supportive, taking care of me and encouraging me the whole way; what really kept me going was the promise I made to dedicate my trek to 20 helpless, little children who would never again know the feeling of climbing, walking, and running. I had a different purpose than just crossing something off my bucket list.  I am glad the flags flew at the summit and we were able to pay tribute to and remember the victims.

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