Tennis legend Martina Navratilova embarked Monday on her attempt to summit Tanzania's Mt. Kilimanjaro in an effort to raise funds for the Laureus Sport for Good Foundation, a charity helping disadvantaged youth worldwide through sports-based projects.
The nine-time Wimbledon champion is joined on the challenge by a group of 27 fundraisers, including German Paralympic cyclist Michael Teuber and British Olympic badminton star Gail Emms.
Ascending via the Rongai Route, it is expected to take six to seven days to reach the summit of Kilimanjaro, which at 19,340 feet is the highest mountain in Africa and the tallest free-standing mountain in the world.
"I've been planning to climb Mt. Kilimanjaro since early this year, even before my breast cancer diagnosis, so it feels really great to finally be underway," Navratilova said as the team was about to depart. "I'm feeling well prepared for the challenge, and although I'm sure we'll all be in for a tough few days of climbing, I am determined to reach the summit."
It would be a notable task at any time given that only half those who attempt the peak manage to overcome the effects of altitude and reach the top.
But it is even more remarkable after the year she has had. Back in January a routine mammogram revealed she had a ductal carcinoma in her left breast.
“My first thought [on being diagnosed] was ’oh shit, why me.’ But two minutes later it was: ’what do I do now? How do I get out of this?’ Then you get into the solution.
"That’s when you start fighting. When I had to go through the treatment, failure never occurred to me. When you play tennis, you never think about the possibility of losing until the moment you have lost the match.
"That was the approach I took to the cancer: I will win. After all, what else are you going to do? Let it win?”
After a lumpectomy operation in March and radiation therapy in June, she was declared the winner in a head-to-head competition which made the disease look a no-hoper.
Defeated though it was, the cancer did, however, leave its mark even on a competitor as ferocious as this.
“It puts a little bit of urgency on the list,” she says. “You don’t want to put things off until you’re 60. I always knew time was limited, but at the same time you always thought there was plenty of it.
"Now, after this, you’re not so sure. I may speed up a little to make sure I get things done."
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