Several years ago my Mama made me promise her I’d never climb Everest. At the time, I agonised over the request. I stood in my bedroom looking out over the smog hidden rooftops of Beijing thinking about the corner of the dream I thought I was being asked to relinquish. We wound around a variety of topics - safety, altitude, risk, teamwork, risk. I thought I knew what we were discussing as many years earlier I’d made the trek to K2 basecamp and met a bunch of successful Everest Summiteers who were then preparing for an ascent of K2.
I’m not a mountain climber. I’m scared of scary things – spiders, snakes, crawly creatures. I’m scared of hanging off cliffs and climbing over things. I’m scared of running along paths where the rocks jut out from the ground, the cliffs, or overhead. I’ve tried rock climbing a bunch of times, and it’s not my passion.
But climbing Everest has a certain appeal – of conquering fear, of achieving the unachievable, of living a life of 100% commitment to something bigger than yourself. “Mina, what is your Everest?” My Mama once asked me.
As I’ve pounded through the long miles of pavement, river banks, deserts and trails, I’ve contemplated this question. I’ve thought about my passion, about what drives me. What gets me up at 4am, and makes me run through monsoonal rains and extreme heat. What makes the sacrifice acceptable, and has me committed to doing something I’m neither naturally talented at, nor particularly enjoy. I’ve thought about my Everest.
Over the last few months, my passion and commitment has been tested. I’ve struggled since the 6 River Run. I came back literally unable to walk, and spent months rebuilding the muscles in my legs.
But I created plans and objectives for my next run. I built timelines and trained hard for them. I was fit again and running 120-180km a week. I was strong, and I was committed. There were even patches of runs where I found myself actually enjoying the wind on my skin and the ground beneath my feet. Moments where I finally felt almost comfortable being out running.
And then Christmas happened.
I was at home with my wise Mama, my incredibly smart sister, and their four bear-like hounds. I’d been struggling with my running. Pain had gone well past being my friend, and felt like a demon sitting around my hip socket breathing fire every time I ran. I was limping even when walking, and I dreaded putting on my running shoes knowing the pain I would face when I walked out the door would be unbearable.
Fortunately I’m surrounded by bossy people who care about me, and understand how committed I am to my water cause. They intervened and rather than doing last-minute Christmas shopping, I was being shunted through an MRI machine.
The next few days were a total blur. Christmas came and went, doctors and radiologists sat me down, and I shuffled my way blindly through conversations with psychologist. The walls of everything I knew were tumbling down around me.
I had fractured my sacrum.
There would be no running for me for the next three months. And that was if I was lucky. When I was cleared to run, it would be a long slow road back as my body healed and replenished itself. I was devastated.
I was this close to starting my next challenge and now I was stuck hobbling on crutches. I felt that I had let people down: family, friends, supporters and, most of all, the people down that I didn’t even know – those suffering from water crises across the globe. People working on solutions to water problems. People who deserved and needed to have their story told. People just like you.
I wanted to apologise. I beat up on myself. I turned inwards. I spent my days wondering how things could have gone so horribly wrong. I wanted to move forward, but didn’t know how. But I stuck to strict food intake requirements, and the prescription of total rest. Mentally and physically, I started to heal.
As I healed, I thought a lot about climbing. Of what happens when you get to a face you don’t know how to climb. I learned about the importance of teams, and skills. And most importantly I learned the incredible power of resilience, grit and sheer determination. The mountain of recovery and rehabilitation I see rising before me is bigger than anything I’ve encountered before. My mama tells me I’ve gone through things like this before, and come back. In my heart, as always, I know she’s right.
Big mountains, like big global problems, aren’t easy to summit. They throw everything at you in the hope of pushing you back to the warmth of a fire, or the security of a roof above your head. If they were easy to climb, they would be a flat paved road.
But that’s not life, and that’s what makes summits, summits. They require an unassailable commitment to doing whatever it takes. To giving 100% of everything you have. And to not be afraid of getting up each and every time you are knocked down.
I want a world with enough water for everyone, forever. I want to change how we think about water so we can shift our global consumption patterns. We need to rethink our relationship with water so that our use is balanced against the earth’s supply. Saving water is something I’ll do anything for – climb literal and figurative mountains, face down my fears, and conquer the evil voices inside my head that define my barriers.
Why? Because this is what it means to be 100% committed to something. My summit, my Everest, is not about running. To answer my Mama’s question, my Everest is water.