In early 2008, Kevitt was introduced to the unorthodox idea of hiking up Mt. Kilimanjaro in Tanzania as a sighted guide with a group of blind people. The Foundation for Blind Children, which serves more than 2,200 blind or visually impaired children, teenagers and adults in Arizona, also set a goal of raising $500,000. The money would cover the team's trek up the mountain and help to fund their Infant Program, which provides in-home training for parents to teach their blind baby how to use other senses for learning.
Kevitt gladly accepted the challenge, which paired her love of adventure and athletics with an organization she was passionate about, having served on the board. She was initially intrigued with accomplishing such a feat after seeing the movie Blind Sight, which tells the tale of the blind conquering Mt. Everest, but was even more moved when she met the blind man she would guide up the mountain.
Forty-three-year-old Tom Hicks, a U.S. veteran, is more than twice the then 35-year-old Kevitt's height and weight. "Once I met Tom Hicks," remembered Kevitt, "it was more about helping him accomplish his goal – to summit Mt. Kilimanjaro so he could be a role model to all the kids without vision. He wanted to prove to them that they can live a life without limitations. It no longer became about me, it really became about helping Tom make this statement. He couldn't succeed without me. "
The eight-night journey up 'Kili,' as the team affectionately refers to it, took them through seven ecosystems, from hot, humid weather to below freezing temperatures. The 19,340-foot-high mountain is the tallest in Africa. Throughout the journey Kevitt looked for creative ways to describe the visual experience to Hicks. For example, she would raise his hand to show him where the summit was as they progressed up the mountain. She also described the terrain so he could envision it in his mind.
Kevitt recalled that the last day of the hike began at 1 a.m. It was pitch black and 10 degrees outside; the chill increased as the team approached the peak. Many of the climbers were nauseous the final day and some had suffered severe altitude sickness. Kevitt remembers just seeing a row of head lamps on the side of the mountain.
For six hours, each team member would take a step and breathe to survive the thin air up the steep mountain. "The last 45 minutes, I felt a complete adrenaline rush and this amazing exhilaration of goose bumps and tears," reminisced Kevitt. "I can't believe we're here and doing this after a year [of training]," she thought. "I can see the sign. We're going to make it. "
Kevitt's favorite memory of the trip was watching Hicks touch the sign at the top of Mt. Kilimanjaro and seeing his face, which she said summarized the entire training. "That single moment was just the most powerful, impactful moment in my life," she recounted.
Ultimately, the 25-person team (eight blind hikers, 16 sighted guides and one overall guide) set two world records when they all reached the summit on June 29, 2009: largest group of blind climbers to summit Mt. Kilimanjaro, and youngest blind climber to summit Mt. Kilimanjaro. Additionally, a portion of the money raised for the foundation went to fund 52 babies' involvement in the Infant Program. To see pictures of the trip and read first-hand accounts, visit www.seekiliourway.org.
The mission of the Foundation for Blind Children is to help blind and visually impaired children, adults and their families lead lives of independence and dignity through mastery of their environment. This will be accomplished through education, training, counseling, communication and technology.
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