(Courtesy Stacey Pratt)
Hyde Park resident Stacey Pratt has achieved a personal goal and, she hopes, put behind her a difficult period of her life.
On Aug. 7, Pratt reached Gilman’s Point, near the summit of Tanzania’s Mount Kilimanjaro, the tallest mountain in Africa and one of the highest peaks in the world. That accomplishment would be meaningful for anyone, but it was especially so for Pratt, 38, who sank into a depression and became overweight after a five-year period in which she lost both parents and her grandmother, was laid off from her job, and went through a divorce.
The climb came after many months of preparation, working out four to five days each week with strength and conditioning coach Jason Zagami at Hyde Park’s Solid Body Fitness and taking hiking trips each weekend with a friend. Pratt lost 30 pounds and gained strength, stamina and confidence through the exercise, but it didn’t exactly make climbing Kilimanjaro easy.
“I’m happy with the accomplishment, glad that I did it, but it was tough,” she said. “It was a tough six days up there.”
Pratt left Boston for Africa on July 30 and spent the first two days of her trip in Nairobi, Kenya, visiting the Global Alliance for Africa and seeing the nonprofit organization’s programs at work in the Kibera slum, one of the largest slums on that continent. Pratt used her trip to raise funds for the charity, which works to support African children orphaned or abandoned due to HIV and AIDS.
“That was what I had expected it to be, but it was tough to see all the children — no water, no electricity, just very little food, there was sewage and trash everywhere,” she said. “It was hard to see, but it was good to see that the money that we raised was going there to help them.”
From Nairobi, she traveled to Tanzania to begin the climb. It would be six days on Mount Kilimanjaro — five going up and a day and a half coming down. Pratt had no way of knowing that the trip for which she had so long prepared would be marred by a problem common to international travelers.
“I expected it to be really hard, so it was kind of in line with what I expected,” she said. “I guess what I didn’t expect was to be sick for a few days of it.”
Pratt believes her illness was a result of something she ate shortly after arriving in Africa. She knows being sick made the challenging hike even more difficult. She persevered, though, because she felt she had no other choice.
“It’s not like there’s a car that can just pick you up and take you home,” she said.
Fortunately, her guides were willing to help carry her gear, which made the climb a little more tolerable. And near the end, she finally got lucky.
Pratt’s group reached the final camp around 4 p.m. on their fifth day of climbing, at the end of an eight-hour hike. They agreed to nap for a couple of hours and then complete the climb to Gilman’s Point later that night.
“At that point I thought, I’m not going to make it,” Pratt chuckled. “You know, I’ve been sick for days, I’m dehydrated, I’m not feeling good. I don’t think I’m going to make it, but I’ll take a nap and see how I feel.”
She drank a large quantity of water and took some medication, then lay down for her rest. Surprisingly, when she awoke two hours later, she felt great.
“It was like the only time I felt good was on summit night,” she said. “So I guess it was perfect timing.”
The group set out again around 11 p.m. and hiked another nine hours, in the dark, with temperatures below freezing, up a steep grade that was sandy and rocky, so that their feet often slipped. They reached their destination around dawn and watched the sun rise from one of the world’s highest peaks.
“It had to have been the most beautiful sunrise I’ve ever seen,” Pratt said.
While there, she released into the wind some of her mother’s ashes, held since Marge Pratt’s death in 2002, an event that marked the beginning of five years of loss. It was a gesture of remembrance for a parent deeply loved but also, she hopes, one of closing the door on that period of her life and beginning a new direction.
Pratt now says she’s considering a career change, possibly becoming a personal trainer or a life coach so that she can put to work the lessons she’s learned through her journey to help others. And she’s looking forward to other challenging climbs.
“I think now it’s more just about, ‘What’s next?’” she said. “And just focusing on doing positive things and keep working out, keep feeling good, try to take on new adventures.”
And what will her next adventure be?
“I just talked to a co-worker today who’s like, ‘I’m hiking in and out of the Grand Canyon for the Heart Foundation. You want to come?’”
Pratt said yes.
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