[dropcap]S[/dropcap]tephanie Hathaway is active in the Peaks Foundation, which she describes as a “female-centric nonprofit organization that raises money — primarily for women and girls in developing countries — by organizing mountain adventures.” With Peaks she has traveled to east Africa and is going to be running their Annapurna ultra-marathon in March. If you are interested in getting involved and attending the Peaks Foundation annual summit, which is in Golden, Colorado this year, visit their website.
How did you first get involved with Peaks and what motivated you?
I was climbing my neighborhood mountain one weekend and ran into a girl who had just done 3 Peaks 3 Weeks Africa. The second I heard about it, I knew I had to do it.
What is it exactly?
3 peaks 3 weeks is the Peaks Foundation’s flagship program. They select 12 women to climb 3 mountains in 3 weeks. The team raises funds for non-profit organizations local to the mountains they climb. Our team raised $125k for three nonprofits in East Africa.
Yowza. Now I’m wondering what your travel or climbing or running experience was prior to setting out to scale those mountains?
I’ve been a runner since I was a little kid and had recently taken up cycling to start competing in triathlons. I did the St. George Ironman seven months before I set off. While “clean” sports get the job done on a day-to-day basis, my place of peace – my religion – is on the mountain. Always.
As for travel, I studied abroad in Europe when I was in college and I’d also been to Panama and Mexico, but this kind of trip was my dream.
Were there any scary moments or close calls or strange encounters during the trip?
We were super lucky. Short of a couple of bouts with altitude sickness and a couple of unruly baboons, we didn’t have any scary moments.
Our team was pretty silly. We made up a “dance” and recorded it every night we were on the mountain. It was hilarious. Eventually the guides, porters, and camp staff joined us. It was such a fun, uniting experience for the group. Those videos are out there…somewhere (yikes).
How was your life different when you went back home?
The rest of the team went home after our climbs were done. I decided to stay in Africa and volunteer in a primary school in a village in Uganda. I spent a month there alone in that village.
I loved it, but ultimately decided to leave to see more of the world. I traveled to east Africa for a few more months before heading to Thailand. I had intended on running my way to New Zealand to participate in the Abel Tasman Coastal Classic 36k (via southeast Asia and Australia) but was diagnosed with breast cancer when I got to Thailand and had to return home.
So when I came home, everything was different. I started chemotherapy almost immediately, and after five months of heavy chemo I had mastectomies and radiation followed by more “light” chemo. It was crazy intense.
Everything I knew changed; I lost so much through cancer. But rebuilding has been the most amazing, mind-blowing, gratitude-inducing process. I have never been so happy and so full.
How do you reconcile “normal” home life and the desire to get out?
Ha! I’m not really sure what “normal” is anymore. I know that I’m grateful to have a job that puts up with my need to be “out and about.” When I started working again after cancer treatments, I was terrified that I was giving up the “adventure” part of my life. Alas, adventure lives in me. If I can’t be running around barefoot in Uganda, or running an ultra-marathon in Nepal, I can be exploring my mountain (Mt. Baldy), or on a trail overlooking the ocean, or driving across the country, or camping in Malibu. There is so much to see and do and learn. I’m realizing, as I get older, that it doesn’t necessarily need to be grand or distant to be amazing.
What and when is your next trip with Peaks?
I’m doing the Annapurna 50k on March 1st. I’m also leading a “Girls Challenge” climb up Machu Picchu in May. I’m so excited about both.
What pushed you to do another Peaks trip?
When I went through treatments for breast cancer I lost all fitness (and, as it turns out, what I thought was my value); I’d been running since I was 10 years old and suddenly couldn’t run for more than 30 seconds. It was incredibly painful, both physically and emotionally.
I am doing this to recapture the part of me that I lost in treatment, but also to support an organization and a cause that I truly believe is imperative.
Okay, so I’m embarrassed to ask: what exactly is an ultra-marathon? When did you get up to this level? And how do you train? (Also, are they addictive? I heard that once and that’s of course why why I don’t do them…afraid of getting addicted.)
An ultramarathon is anything over a marathon. I’m starting slow and easy with a 50k, only five miles longer than a marathon. I did an Ironman a couple of years ago – the mantra that I learned from doing an Ironman is: “I can do anything for 17 hours.”
I am training with long trail runs on the weekends and shorter (6-10 miles) runs on the weekdays. I know I’m not gonna blow this race out of the water, but, honestly, I just want to be in a state of fitness that allows me to be able to enjoy every second of running through villages in the Himalayas. I am so excited to see Annapurna this way.
Describe the feeling of doing an ultra-marathon. I’m not exactly a talented runner, so instead of asking, Are you crazy?!? I’ll ask, what’s the appeal for you?
HA! I have no idea what it feels like! I know I will suffer, but I do kind of love to suffer.
The appeal: I think that seeing a place on my feet is the best way to really get to know it. I try to run everywhere I go. This, obviously, is special.
What do you already know about Annapurna? What are you looking forward to?
I know very little. I’ve made it a practice not to do too much research before I go to a place. This way the possibility of experience is wide open and my mind in bound to be blown. I have heard that there are lots of little villages that we’ll run through during the race. Villages are special places and I cannot wait to meet the locals as I’m running through.
What are some things you are definitely going to bring with you? What are your travel must-haves?
My phone (that sounds crazy stupid) — but only because I will use the crap out of the camera and the music, and my little tiny laptop (so that I can write). My runners always come with me, too, whether or not I’m racing.
What is your day job? And, of course, why? Why, jobs, why.
I work as a compensation analyst for a giant insurance company. I do it because I need to make money, but I honestly love it. It’s a fantastic balance for me (they let me run at lunch and ultimately are very supportive of my adventurous spirit).
So if you didn’t want to be a giant insurance company analyst when you grew up, what did you want to be? And where did you grow up?
Happy. I’ve never really been able to pin myself down with a career choice or an occupation. I find myself content as long as I’m doing something that challenges me and good people surround me.
I grew up in Southern California – at the foot of Mt Baldy.
Do you have any longer-term dreams or goals?
To be happy; to make sure I maintain the perspective that I’ve gained through travel and adventures and the fight for life; to keep my mind open to new adventures.
Who have been your figures of inspiration?
My mom (who also had breast cancer) and dad who support all my zany ideas. A college professor who told me that I was smart, and told me I could do an Ironman (ha!). Most recently, my friend Gianna, who is battling terminal breast cancer with a fierceness I could not have imagined. And my friend Brittany who is also battling breast cancer – with a one-year-old and a three-year-old, while being deaf; she is brilliant and open and strong and humble.
These women who battle this disease mean so much to me. Having lived the struggle and watching my loved ones do it too, I’ve realized that this is not about pretty pink ribbons. This stuff is gnarly; the act of dying of this disease is horrific. They inspire me to do more and be more with every moment of health I’m granted.
What have you learned about people, yourself, the world?
Every single one of us has a story to share; we are all reacting to something. And every single one of us is valuable and should be treated as such.