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A woman with a mission: meet five time mountaineer Monica Stein who climbs for a cure

May 8, 2013

Repeat mountain climber Monica Stein sheds light on what helps her push beyond her comfort zone and be able to summit peaks she was sure she’d never reach. Monica also shares the many personal rewards that keep her returning to Climb to Fight Breast Cancer again and again.

Interviewer: So I understand you have quite a few stories from having summited five different peaks with Climb to Fight Breast Cancer. Would you please share some of the experiences that stand out most in your mind?

Monica: Right before I was about to climb Mount Kilimanjaro, I had been raising money for breast cancer research. I was living in Los Angeles at the time and approximately a month before the trip, my dad passed away very unexpectedly. So my parents had been living in Las Vegas, and because it was so sudden, my mom needed a lot of help and support.

I actually moved in with her to kind of help her take care of things. So I really didn’t think I’d be able to make the climb. I had been sucked into trying to take care of the family, and not myself. But it ended up being a great opportunity for me to get away. So that trip was so symbolic in so many ways that it was for this great cause and it was time away for myself.

It’s About Connection

Monica: There were so many amazing people on that climb, and even though they weren’t all climbers. It made a huge difference that they all came through for me knowing what I had just been through with my own family.  It was just pretty amazing for them to all rally behind me, and when I returned back to the states, they had helped me reach my fundraising goal because it meant a lot to them.

Interviewer: Sounds like there are relationships that you’re building out here, too.

Monica: Yeah, it’s amazing. Colin, who is helping organize a lot of the photography and the climb itself, we did Mount Rainier together, which was my first climb. Then John, over there, he climbed Mt. Baker with Julie and me. So there’s been a lot of wonderful people that I’ve met here and been reunited with again.

It’s Takes A Village…

Monica: So that was pretty amazing. Then about a year later, I had moved to New York which is not the easiest place to train for high mountains.

Interviewer: But you’ve got so many skyscrapers that you can run up and down there.

Monica: Well, yeah, I had lived on a fourth floor walkup at the time, so that was pretty good training. But I was climbing the Mexico Volcanoes and they’re pretty tough. They’re the third and fifth highest peaks in North America.

climber-on-orizabaMost people don’t notice that there are high mountains in Mexico. I met three of the climbers that are here today, Julie, Paul, and Lynn. Lynn is actually a cancer survivor, as well. Again, it was just very symbolic of the challenge that someone goes through when they’re fighting any type of cancer. But on both peaks, especially the first one, I had gone pretty high up and was just not interested in summiting. It was just the high altitude. I felt like I was the most out-of-shape I’ve ever been.

If You Think You Can’t

Even though I hadn’t been able to train on mountains, everyone was very encouraging and eventually I made it to the top.Then we had a day of recovery in between so we could rest and recover.  Julie and I were roommates and got to know each other really well.

So then we started on the next climb after a day of recovery and a massage. Lynn was not feeling very well and she ended up deciding not to climb. But, again, we went up and it was a smaller group of us. It just comes down to mind over matter.

Again, we got close to the peak when someone had a leg cramp and was going to stop there. I was actually hoping he would stop so that I could stay with him. Finally he said, “Come on. It’s just another couple hundred feet.” So we ended up summiting again to my surprise. It’s just very symbolic of the challenges that you face.

In retrospect, I’m so glad that I didn’t just give up because when I did come back to the states again, my aunt had been diagnosed with cancer. So it just felt great to have summited both mountains. It was for a great cause, and it helps to know that she’s a big supporter of mine and now she’s doing great and is fully recovered.

Making Up Your Mind

Interviewer: What would you say to anyone who’s on the fence about becoming a climber?

Monica: Are they also thinking about the fundraising element of it, or…?

Interviewer: Yes. But maybe they’re not sure about themselves and you want to give them some words of encouragement. How would you speak to these people to get them motivated to support this cause and this organization?

Monica: One of things that makes supporting the Climb to Fight Breast Cancer really easy is knowing that when I’m going to ask for money for a fundraiser, that the money actually goes towards breast cancer research and studies and treatment. I think increasing the awareness of breast cancer is really important and so is the fact that Fred Hutch is really coming up with some amazing cures for other illnesses.

So that’s encouraging for someone if they need to raise money. As far as the actual climbing goes, the best part is that every time I decide to do another climb, there’s a moment where I know I’m going to hate it and I’m going to tell myself never to do it again. The amazing thing is that I know I’ll be over it after I reach the top. Of course actually coming down is the worst part but you know that you’re going to forget that and that you’re going to want to sign up again. You know this why you’re doing it. It’s like mind over matter and that’s amazing to me.

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