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Readers who inspire me: One man's climb to the top

Posted by Elizabeth Comeau  March 25, 2013 07:03 PM

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During the course of documenting my own fitness journey, many people have asked me how I stay motivated. The answer -- other than my own crazy sheer will -- is quite simple: People like Phillip Berenz keep me going.

I've filed this guy away under the category labeled "people who don't believe in the word can't" -- one of my favorite categories of people.

I connected with Berenz, 28, in a serendipitous way through this blog when another reader told me I should interview him about what's he's accomplished.

What exactly has he accomplished? For starters, Berenz, who has cerebral palsy, climbed Mt. Kilimanjaro -- for charity.

phil.jpgBerenz has an unassuming nature that's inspiring on its own as he tells his courageous story.

"Everyone has the ability to do something healthy or to help someone, you just have to make up your mind to do it," Berenz said earlier this week.

Berenz's idea of doing something "healthy" and "helping someone" got mashed into something giant -- something about 19,340 feet above sea level to be exact.

"One day my friends and I were climbing in the rock gym and I saw a poster for a charity climb," Berenz said. "So I just kind of said to my friends, hey, do you guys want to climb a large mountain for charity?"

The group was game, so they set their sights on Mt. Kilimanjaro. That's right, Kilimanjaro. They decided they'd raise money and awareness for a charity with their climb and document the whole thing along the way.

The charity of choice? United Cerebral Palsy of MetroBoston.

"I was born 2 1/2 months premature and was diagnosed with CP when I was 18 months old," Berenz said. "I was lucky enough to receive very good care and had somewhat of an innovative surgery that helped alleviate some of my symptoms."

Berenz walks with a barely noticeable limp, noting that his right leg is significantly weaker than his left.

To get ready for the killer ascent up Kilimanjaro, Berenz did extra strength training and focused on improving his agility and balance.

Plus he and his friends hiked a lot, he said.

In relaying details of his trip to me, Berenz never once told me he didn't think the group would make it to the summit. They had setbacks, sure (stomach issues, chills all night, being unable to sleep) and at times he worried the trip to the top was in jeopardy, he said. "But then I'd just get a pat on the back and a 'you'll be fine,' and I knew I could go on." (You can read about the group's specific route over on their blog.)

The group did indeed reach the summit after hiking most of the night. "Seeing the sun at the top was one of the most amazing things I've ever seen," he said. "The trip was basically the most fun I've had -- ever."

Scaling that large mountain was not it for Berenz, though. He's still trying to tackle his fundraising goal of $30,000 ($10,000 for each of the three core people involved in the hike).

"I've just always been fighting to get to a better place," Berenz said. "I just wanted to do something that could help others with CP have a better life than me -- be more independent, and be healthy."

People like this guy keep me going. So many of you have amazing, inspiring stories to tell. I'm just happy I get to learn about -- and tell -- some of them.

Learn more about Berenz and his climb for CP.

What (or who) inspires you?

Staying fit is an important part of staying healthy. This blog will offer exercise tips from experts as well as share the personal journeys of Globe staff members committed to fitness. No matter your age or energy level, we invite you to join in and share your own story. How do you find time to work out? What are your daily challenges? Let us know and read along -- and together, we can all get moving.

CONTRIBUTORS

Elizabeth Comeau is a social media marketing manager at Boston.com. She will be blogging about her personal fitness journey and using a device called a FitBit to track her weekly goals and progress (see below). Follow her journey and share your own. Read more about Elizabeth and this blog.

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