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Hyde Park resident seeks the other side of the mountain

Posted by Jeremy C. Fox  July 29, 2011 02:39 PM

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(Courtesy Stacey Pratt)

Stacey Pratt on the See Forever Trail, Telluride, Colo., on July 22.

After a period of devastating losses, Hyde Park resident Stacey Pratt is working to rebuild her health and happiness.

This weekend, Pratt, 38, will begin a long and difficult journey to one of the world’s highest peaks, but that challenge is nothing compared to what she’s faced in the past decade.

In late 2002, her mother Marge Pratt died at 55 from cancer that began in her colon and metastasized to her liver.

On May 9, 2004, her father Walter Pratt was stabbed to death alongside a Colorado highway when he stopped to assist a stranded motorist. He was 58.

About a month after her father’s death, Stacey Pratt was laid off from her job. Eventually, she could no longer pay her mortgage and lost her home.

Around that same time, she and her husband of seven years were divorced.

In 2006, her beloved maternal grandmother, with whom she had lived for part of her childhood, died of cancer.

Pratt had the support of good friends to help her through the hard times, but still the burden of so much loss drove her into unhealthy behaviors.

“It was a lonely time,” Pratt recalled in a phone interview. “My therapy was to shop and to eat, and it wasn’t really much therapy. It was kind of just masking it.”

The shopping quickly depleted the money she had received from her parents’ estates, and the eating drove this 5-foot-9-inch blonde’s weight up to 246 pounds.

“I never really made the connection that maybe I was an emotional eater until fairly recently,” Pratt said, “but it left me in a place where I was struggling with my weight and unhappy and unhealthy and not really sure of what to do about it.”

Her answer came about a year and a half ago, just after she moved to Hyde Park, when Pratt turned to her cousin, who had gone through a struggle with her own weight and unhappiness.

Kara Richardson Whitely lost weight and gained self-confidence through mountain-climbing, ultimately summiting Mount Kilimanjaro while raising money to support the Global Alliance for Africa, a nonprofit organization that works to support African children orphaned or abandoned due to HIV and AIDS. She wrote about those experiences in her book “Fat Woman on the Mountain.”

Whitely encouraged Pratt to join her for her third and final trip up the 19,341-foot inactive volcano in Tanzania, saying, “maybe it’ll help you as well, and give you some focus and something to help turn it around,” Pratt recalled. While others might be daunted by such a proposal, Pratt immediately said yes.

To prepare for the climb, Pratt set to work building her strength and endurance. She began taking hiking trips with a friend each weekend and working out four to five days each week with strength and conditioning coach Jason Zagami at Hyde Park’s Solid Body Fitness. She’d had always disliked going to the gym, but she found Zagami and the crew at Solid Body to be supportive and accepting.

“I never felt like the fat person in the gym. I never felt self-conscious,” she said. “And if I didn’t go, I would get a text message from Jason: ‘Where are you? What are you doing?’ So that definitely helped.”

So far, Pratt has lost 30 pounds, but she plans to continue working until she loses another 50 or 60. Already she has seen tremendous improvements in her energy, motivation, and confidence.

“It’s more just about how I feel, not so much the number,” she said. “I try not to weigh myself too much.”

As part of her climb, Pratt committed to raising $5,000 for the Global Alliance for Africa. She said the organization works to support African children not only through direct assistance but also by making improvements to the communities and environments where they live.

“It’s not just the children that they’re helping fund education for and ... with medical care, but they help build libraries and they put in wells in the towns,” she said.

At first, she saw the climb and her training as just an opportunity to lose weight and raise money for charity, but now, she said, it’s become so much more than that.

“It’s really helped me just have a whole new appreciation, a whole new set of eyes,” she said.

Although Pratt moved often during her childhood due to changes in her father’s postings as a naval commander and had spent lots of time outdoors on the camping trips he loved, she said she rarely appreciated her surroundings or took interest in the natural environment.

Over the past year and a half, as she’s gone from hiking modest inclines in the Blue Hills to steeper terrain on Mount Greylock to altitude training in Colorado’s San Juan Mountains, she’s developed a new appreciation for the rugged landscapes that meant so much to her father. It’s made her feel closer to him, and also to her mother, who loved travel and would impulsively pick up and head out on trips to exotic destinations.

“I definitely think they would have loved this,” she said. “And I definitely think it’s going to help with me coming full circle with everything that’s happened.”

As she prepared Thursday for her departure on Saturday, July 30, to begin the climb, Pratt said she felt a little bit intimidated by the size of the mountain, but still confident. And whatever happens when she gets there, she’s already come a long way.

“I’m trying to look at it as, it’s the entire journey, not just the getting-to-the-top part,” she said. “So while that would be absolutely amazing and life-changing, I’m sure, it’s the entire experience that’s really been amazing.”

To read Pratt’s blog about her climbing adventures or donate to the Global Alliance for Africa, visit http://climbing4health.com/.

Email Jeremy C. Fox at jeremycfox@gmail.com.

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(Courtesy Stacey Pratt)

Stacey Pratt during a recent hiking trip to Mount Greylock, in Western Massachusetts.

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