Few people can say they have successfully climbed Mount Kilimanjaro, and even fewer can say they did it for charity.
Roswell resident Lisa Simmons, president of Beacon Management Services, has done both.
From Aug. 12 to Aug. 20, Simmons hiked the African continent’s highest mountain to raise awareness and funds for BlazeSports, a local nonprofit that empowers children and adults with physical disabilities through sports. It regularly helps more than 1,000 people in the metro Atlanta region.
All-in-all, Simmons raised more than $25,000, all of which will go directly to the organization to purchase new wheelchair and track equipment, as well as support athletic programs for participants with disabilities.
“It is truly a remarkable organization,” Simmons said. “They have an incredible program to help physically disabled children and veterans. They’ve helped over one million people across the country … As a female business owner, I see the importance they place on inclusion for all participants.”
This is the second fundraiser hike Simmons has carried out for BlazeSports. Last year, she hiked the Grand Canyon, rim-to-rim, and raised $13,000 for the organization.
Simmons, who had breast cancer eight years ago, started hiking for BlazeSports in order to challenge herself while doing some good in the world.
“Any time that you aspire to do something big, bigger than you think you can do, and you do it, you broaden your horizons,” Simmons said. “You expand your world. You become stronger as a result. Last year, I thought I would never be able to hike across the Grand Canyon, but then I did it … You realize you can actually do it, and then you want to do something else. I’m capable of more. Everyone is capable of more.”
With that one hike under her belt last year, Simmons set her sights on a grander goal: Mount Kilimanjaro in Africa.
Simmons trekked eight days — about 7-10 hours a day — across the Machame route with eight other women. The route approaches Mount Kilimanjaro from the south, through a rain forest, to Shira Plateau and goes east underneath the mountain’s southern ice field before summiting.
It’s a longer route that allowed Simmons to more easily acclimate during the hike.
Mount Kilimanjaro rises 19,341 feet above sea level, where oxygen is low. That height, where altitude sickness and possible death become a real possibility, was one of Simmons’ greatest concerns about the hike.
“I couldn’t train for the altitude here. I didn’t know how I would be affected by it,” Simmons said. “At that height, there’s a lack of oxygen; motor skills start slowing down. I felt light-headed and tired, like everything is in a dream-like state. By the time I got to the top at 19,000 feet, it was all I could do to keep one foot in front of the other.”
On the final day, the hikers woke up at midnight to begin climbing so they could see the sunrise from the summit. And while that view was gorgeous and empowering, Simmons said one of the best parts of the journey was meeting her fellow hikers.
“We were from different states and different backgrounds, different ages,” she said. “We had this broad diversity of people, and we all encouraged one another. We got along, had fun, laughed, talked, sang songs; we really helped each other get up the mountain … They are people I will never forget.”
After finishing the climb, Simmons participated in a local service project, where she helped at a home for the deaf.
The trip, Simmons said, was hard, but fun. She is already looking forward to her next challenge. Simmons said she is considering holding an annual hike for BlazeSports, with the possible long-term goal of hiking the highest mountain on each continent.