Chaeli conquers Kili

Chaeli Mycroft celebrated her 21st birthday in a most unusual way – by ascending Mt Kilimanjaro. THATO TINTE reports.

How many people do you know who’ve celebrated their 21st birthday on Mount Kilimanjaro? Moreover, how many female quadriplegics do you know who have ascended its summit, effectively making them world-record holders?

Our own ground-breaking legend – Michaela “Chaeli” Mycroft – has done this. A wheelchair user with cerebral palsy, Chaeli is a multiple international award winner, ability activist and co-founder of The Chaeli Campaign, a visionary organisation striving towards raising awareness of the ability of people with disabilities. In addition to being half-woman half-amazing, Chaeli is a final-year Bachelor of Social Sciences student at Cape Town University … and moonlights as a motivational speaker.

The incredible dream of conquering the snow-capped “roof of Africa” began on August 29, when a buzzing Chaeli and her “Kili Climbers” team took to the Rongai Route on an epic journey of endurance and self-discovery.

East Africa expert Carel Verhoef led the group, which included Thembi Chagonda, Anne Henschel, Adam Schafer, Sally Grierson and one of Chaeli’s “besties”, Taylor Jackson.

The team, with Chaeli in her custom-made mountain wheelchair, reached Uhuru’s Peak on the morning of September 3. Official figures give the following guidelines for chances of success based on climbing days (five days: 50 percent chance, six days: 60 percent, seven days: 70 percent and so on) – and the Kili Climbers took an impressive six days to complete their climb. Climbing Kilimanjaro is regarded as one of the most dangerous things to tackle, with approximately 1 000 people every year evacuated off the mountain suffering from Acute Mountain Sickness (AMS). AMS is caused by the body’s failure to adapt quickly enough to the reduced oxygen at increased altitudes.

Along with the elation of reaching the peak, Chaeli experienced huge relief. She says that it was a surreal feeling to realise that they were not going to climb any higher.

She adds that many months of physical training went into her preparations. Although a challenge enthusiast, once she realised the difficulties awaiting them, she immediately began to prep her mental state by remaining positive and remembering to “respect the mountain”.

It wasn’t all tough times, though. During rest periods, when Thembi wasn’t challenging the guys to a fun game of chess, they took pictures, recorded footage and generally “horsed around”. They also practised breathing exercises to maximise their oxygen intake in the thinning air.

“On one of the rare occasions when we could get a cellphone signal, Taylor took a call from Adam’s wife, asking to speak to Adam who was a few metres in front of him,” says Chaeli. “From my perspective, it seemed like a scene from a movie. It was very funny: the altitude made everyone appear to move in slow motion. It took them both what seemed like several minutes to cross those few metres.”

At close to 5 895m above sea level, fear and panic can set in, despite the high spirits. “In the last 1 000m of the climb, on day four, there was a point where I was being carried past some incredibly steep cliffs. As much as I trusted my supporting crew, it was hard not to fear a sudden drop off the face,” she says.

Chaeli describes what it was like to celebrate her “coming of age” while sitting a stone’s throw from the heavens.

“There were moments when I even forgot it was my birthday. When we reached our checkpoint on the day, the crew baked a cake for me and everyone sang! It’ll be difficult to better that,” she says.

Her message to Rolling Inspiration readers? “I hope that you can be inspired by our story and inspired to see beyond the obstacles in your way. Shed your doubts and create a cloud of positivity that propels you to dream big and see it through to reality.”

So, even if you have not had a birthday cake baked in your honour on the tallest freestanding mountain in the world, remember that you are still phenomenal and you have the ability to make your own mark in this world.

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