Conquering Kilimanjaro For Cystic Fibrosis - Part 1
Climbing Mount Kilimanjaro in Africa is one of the most physically and mentally demanding challenges that anyone could face. At 5,895 metres above sea level and as the highest free-standing mountain in the world, you can understand why. The high altitudes would challenge a fit person, so imagine how the difficulty would increase for someone with chronic respiratory problems. Meet 24-year-old Meg Draffin, who set herself the extraordinary challenge of being the first Australian with Cystic Fibrosis to climb Mount Kilimanjaro with her partner Nathan Roye.
Why Mount Kilimanjaro?
I may seem like your average 24-year-old - I have a full-time job working in digital marketing, I am in a long-term relationship with Nath, and I have a great network of family and friends. However, when I was just six weeks old, I was diagnosed with the incurable genetic condition, Cystic Fibrosis (CF). So why would someone with a life-threatening illness want to push their lungs and body to the limit by summiting Mount Kilimanjaro? The answer for me was, because I can! Over 18 months ago, Nath and I were planning where we would go on our next holiday and decided we wanted to do something different. Neither of us had ever travelled to Africa nor summitted a mountain before. Like most millennials these days, I found my inspiration from Instagram and got the idea of climbing Mount Kilimanjaro. The climb looked challenging but would be a once-in-a-lifetime adventure we could talk about for years to come.
Slowly what seemed like a cool idea on Instagram turned into a real possibility but there was a long way to go. I needed clearance from my doctors and other medical professionals, Nath and I both needed leave approval from our work, and we would need to prepare our bodies for the hardest challenge we would ever do. But the idea of achieving something so extraordinary - and in doing so raising awareness for a condition many people don't know about - only motivated us further to set out on the journey.
What is Cystic Fibrosis?
Cystic Fibrosis primarily affects the lungs and digestive system. In the lungs, chronic infections can rapidly reduce lung function. A daily routine of physiotherapy and exercise to clear congestion is essential and an exhausting life-long commitment. In the digestive system, the inability of the pancreas to make enzymes to break down food requires oral supplementation every single time a person eats. There is currently no cure and CF remains the most common lethal genetic condition in Australia, affecting 1 in every 2,500 new births. Today the average life expectancy for Australians with CF is 38.
From when I was diagnosed with CF as a baby, I was treated by the team at the Children's Hospital at Westmead until I became an adult. The CF clinic swung into action and immediately began a constantly evolving and fairly complicated personal program of treatment that ultimately got me to where I am today. It is a result of the clinic's amazing efforts, and the dedication of my family and myself to the ongoing treatment, that I am the healthiest I have ever been and haven't required a hospital admission over the last four years. So to thank the CF Clinic at Westmead and support the team so kids have access to the same lifestyle I have been fortunate to have, I decided to do the climb to raise some much-needed funds.
It's All Uphill From Here
Once Nath and I had set out on our mission to not only climb Mount Kilimanjaro but to do so as a fundraising initiative, we had a long way to go in terms of preparation and training. Although we were already very active, going to the gym five times a week and spending most of our weekends outdoors, we still needed to prepare our bodies for the conditions on the mountain.
Meg's Preparation & Training
Given Meg's chronic illness, she started specific training ten months out. Not only did she have to look at her current exercise routine but there were considerations around diet, sleep and medication. Firstly, she needed to up the ante on long distance hiking. Most weekends, in her hiking boots, Meg spent hours walking and discovering new hiking trails. Although exercise has been a big part of her life and a primary reason she maintains her great health, she needed to include specific training to ensure her body and lungs would get her up the mountain. Her weekly exercise routine included swimming, running, Pilates, walking, altitude training, and personal training that targeted strength, endurance and cardio.
She also ensured she was eating the right types of food, and the right amounts, to help fuel her body given the increased workload she was putting her body under. The other critical factor was sleep. She needed around eight hours rest every night to help with recovery, which allowed her to keep up with all the training on top of her regular routine and full-time work.
Meg worked closely with her doctors and medical professionals around her medication and physiotherapy routine to make sure she would be as healthy as possible for the climb. As she was aiming to be the first person in Australia with CF to summit Kilimanjaro, it required research around the best approach to her medication before and during the climb, but she was surrounded by the best team who were able to guide her throughout the journey.
Nath's Preparation & Training
Although I didn't face the same health issues as Meg when it came to training, I did need to ensure my body was ready for the mountain. I had to focus on my exercise routine and diet. I committed to a 12-week challenge to push my body through endurance and strength training, while also eating all the right foods to fuel up. I wore my hiking boots to work each day to help break them in, before heading to the gym and walking on the treadmill to prepare my feet for seven days of non-stop hiking.
Practice Makes Perfect
Nath and I would often enjoy practice hikes together to help prepare for the real deal. This included conquering Mount Kosciuszko, Australia's highest mountain, wearing our Mountain Designs hiking pants and rain jackets. We also set out to the Blue Mountains in winter to help prepare for the cooler conditions, where we added the Mountain Designs down jackets to our get up. We discovered plenty of other amazing walks including Spit to Manly, Palm Beach lighthouse in Sydney, and Wineglass Bay in Hobart.
In the lead up to the climb, we gave 110% to our training routine, fundraising efforts, raising awareness and packing the right equipment. Although we had prepared ourselves physically and mentally, we also needed to make sure we had all the right clothing for the different climates on Mount Kilimanjaro. Luckily we had geared ourselves up with everything we needed from Mountain Designs. The gear list included:
- Australian Merino Blend long sleeve thermal top and pants
- Alola CORDURA® & Menari CORDURA® hiking pants
- Navis half zip & Bruck quarter zip fleece tops
- Peak 700 goose down jackets
- Cumulus GORE-TEX® rain jackets
- Mountaineering gloves
- Merino neck gaiters
- Trekking Plus Merino socks
- Travelite 700 down sleeping bags
- Escape Multi 30L day packs
- Flip 1000 bottles
With bags packed, bodies ready and fundraising underway, and with Nath by my side, I was ready to make history as the first Australian with CF to conquer Mount Kilimanjaro.
Find out if Meg reached the summit on her epic adventure in Conquering Kilimanjaro for Cystic Fibrosis – Part 2.
All images supplied by Meg Draffin & Nathan Roye.