I spent my high school spring break climbing Mt. Kilimanjaro with my father. I was given the incredible opportunity to travel to Africa, and I wanted to do something special. I set up a fundraiser to raise money for a local non-profit, Memphis Child Advocacy Center. The fundraiser was a huge motivator in actually completing my climb because it made the idea all the more real.

As our departure approached, I grew more and more anxious. If there were ever two people to go almost completely unprepared to Mt. Kilimanjaro, it was me and my father. We both had been staying in shape, but with limited hiking preparation. Nonetheless, we were still determined to make it to the top.

Our initial guide was Mustafa. He was one of the nicest people I’ve ever met, but then when I began to meet more Tanzanians, I realized that they all act with the same respect and sincerity. Mustafa told us all about the culture of Tanzania, and took our group on a small safari.

We met our porters and guides and it was incredible to see these men doing what they do with such seemingly little effort. They basically went twice our speed up the mountain with about 20-40 pounds of supplies on their heads. Not only did they do this with elegance, but with smiles on their faces the entire time. They would pass us up the trail and greet us with “Pole Pole,” which meant “slowly, slowly”. They wanted us to succeed more than anything. Throughout the entire trip, they provided us with comforting words and smiles.

On summit day, we began our 7 hour climb to the top at midnight. We reached the glaciers and in 45 minutes, we were at the summit. We made it to the top and I couldn’t hold it in anymore. I burst into tears, partially from excitement and relief that I made it and partially from the -20 degree weather. I’ve never been so utterly impressed with a group of people in my life, including myself.

I realized how soon I would be returning to the reality of my life and I’ve never been so devastated. If I could have stayed in Tanzania forever I would have, but that was not possible.  So I returned home to discover that I raised over $4,000. I love the idea that I was able to help people on this insane adventure of mine and now I get to share the most incredible experience of my life.