Ki-li. Kiliman-jaro. Ki-li. Kiliman-jaro. Kiii-li. Kiliman-jaaaro.
It was a mantra. It was my pace maker. It was my future. It was my goal.
I repeated it over and over again as each foot hit the pavement.
Kili. Kilimanjaro. Left. Right. Left. Right.
In five years time, I thought, I won't be running the marathon. I'm going to climb Africa's rooftop. I'm going to climb Mt. Kilimanjaro. It was going to be my reward for five years of solid health after what seemed like an eternity of hospital beds, doctors,and medicines I couldn't pronounce.
I ran the marathon to prove to myself, and to the world, that I was strong. I could do whatever I wanted. If I could beat death twice before I could legally drink, I could do the impossible. And that's what Kili meant to me times ten. It was to be the culmination of my pride, confidence, and vitality.
Five years later, however, found me in yet another hospital bed. It was cancer. My body was once again rebelling and this time, I wasn't so sure I could win.
I didn't know if I wanted to win. I felt on the verge of utterly giving up. Throwing my hands in the air and saying to hell with "enough" this was too much!
It had been a hard road, and as I saw the doctor say the words, (I saw them more than heard them) I saw Kili, my dream, slipping away from me. But then something funny happened. Rather than depression, I felt a resurgence of hope and determination sweep over me. I would have to do it one day. I'd have to climb that mountain. I just didn't have a choice in the matter.
In the coming weeks, I would sink into periods of sullen despair followed by resolve and steadfast, almost stubborn determination.
In what seemed simultaneously like an eternity and mere seconds, it was time for the surgery. I was alone in the hospital and I thought of my friends, my loved ones, and the view from the mountain that I might never see. I had to steel myself and be strong. Chin up and face it head on.
That's really hard to do when no one is there to hold your hand. But I had brought with me a book to take my mind off of things. It was a recently published book by Joshua Gates, host of my favorite TV show, Destination Truth. It was all about his travels around the world on his search for the unknown.
The first chapters detailed his trip, ironically enough, to climb Kilimanjaro. I felt a cold fist clamp around my stomach. My eyes filled with tears as I read about his expedition. I experienced with him the cold trek (that wasn't so hard, they always keep hospitals at a temperature only a few degrees above freezing...), the arduous climb that was so much like my struggle to live, and his fears that maybe they wouldn't make it.
Maybe I wouldn't make it. Maybe I, like those doomed hikers, was on the wrong road at the wrong time. And as I reached the climax of my fears of dying on the operating table, Josh repeated the inscription on the sign at the top of the mountain, saying he'd seen it so many times before in his mind...as I had.
YOU ARE NOW AT
UHURU PEAK,TANZANIA. 5895 M AMSL
AFRICA'S HIGHEST POINT
WORLD'S HIGHEST FREE-STANDING MOUNTAIN."
He had done it. Against all odds he'd reached the peak of the mountain. And so would I.
He showed me that things are hard. Things are sometimes on the brink of collapse, but the view from the top is worth the struggle to get there.
I obviously did not perish on the operating table. (Modern medicine, huh?) and I have my ticket booked to travel to Tanzania next September
I'm not nervous that I won't make it this time. I've already been there.