My Strive Experience: Stage 5
31st January 2019
By Susie Ma
We had finally arrived at the 5th and final stage of the Strive Challenge, the Mont Blanc climb! Only the Core Team would be taking on this challenging hike, and I felt so ready to begin, a new wave of enthusiasm washing over me as we came closer to the end.
Mont Blanc is the highest peak in Western Europe, towering to an intense 4,810m, every metre of which we intended to climb. It’s said to be an incredibly beautiful summit to scale, with unbelievable views of the Alps, and I can honestly say it did not disappoint, leaving me with scenes that will be forever etched in my memory. I remember feeling so grateful for this end to the challenge, knowing that I had almost achieved one of the greatest experiences of my life, but there was still 2 days to get to the top.
As soon as we began the ascent, I realised that this would be one of the most difficult things I had faced yet. I know, looking back, that I would never have given up without a fight, but I was surviving at the very brink of my physical limits, and it was a gruelling, energy-sapping hike like I’d never experienced thus far. We climbed up steep, rocky and even icy terrain that was meant for more technically advanced climbers, and more dangerous than I could ever have imagined. Luckily, I was tied to my guide, Pablo, and my friend James Benamor was tied behind me. They are both incredibly fit and experienced mountaineers, so I felt very safe and secure having them nearby. At one harrowing point, a few of us were almost hit by falling rocks the size of small cars, which would have undoubtedly been a fatal blow for us all. The near death experience has given me so much more appreciation for how precious life can be, and how it should be lived fully every single day - you never know what could be around the corner.
I carried my 20kg backpack with me the entire way, struggling with (another word here, not chafing), extreme tiredness, altitude sickness that left me struggling for breath much of the time, and freezing temperatures that required us to keep moving at all times for warmth. It took us a full 2 days to reach the pinnacle of Mont Blanc, and the exhilaration when we did was overwhelming. I will remember this moment forever, as it was when I finally achieved the greatest challenge of my life so far, tapping into the depths of my physical and mental strength to get there.
With 15 fellow Strivers journeying through 5 stages of the challenge, we raised over £1 million for Big Change, and every penny went straight to help support the future of young people in the UK, encouraging them to thrive in life. To every single one of you who donated, amounts large and small, you helped me raise an incredible £50,000 for Big Change!! I can’t thank you enough for the support you’ve shown me throughout what has been one of the most poignant experiences of my life so far. It’s been a journey that I’ll never forget, and thinking of the money we raised together and Big Change’s mission to support young people in the UK was what helped me push through the toughest physical and mental challenges I’ve ever faced.
Returning home, I felt exhausted and elated all at once, and ready to sleep for a month! I spent the next few weeks reflecting on the most incredible memories from the 32 day journey; the beginnings of amazing friendships, the lessons learned from inspiring people, the sights of some of the most iconic and beautiful spots in the whole world. Without the Strive Challenge, I would never have experienced any of this, and I feel so incredibly grateful for the chance to take part, donate, and raise awareness of the issues faced by young people in this country.
When I first heard about this challenge, my immediate thoughts were things like: I’m not fit enough, I don’t have the time, I could never do that, I don’t know how to cycle properly, hike properly, and so on and so forth. But I’ve always believed that life is about imagining yourself in those impossible situations and pushing yourself beyond any limits you think you have in order to make things happen for yourself. I knew I had to grab this opportunity and hold on with everything I had, because it wouldn’t come around again in my life. Never have I pushed my body harder than I did over that month, and after believing that my fitness levels wouldn’t quite cut it for this challenge, I proved myself and everyone around me wrong by finding the strength I needed and saying yes to a once-in-a-lifetime experience.
Having not only life-changing moments, but also a near death experience has stopped me from stressing over unnecessary and unimportant things, helped me to appreciate my life and the people in it much more, focused my mind on what’s most important, and allowed me to look at my life in a whole new way. Today, I have a completely refreshed energy and perspective on life, and I look forward to using this experience to shape the future of Tropic.
Sharing this journey with you made it all the more special, and I can never, ever say thank you enough for the support you have all shown since day one. Thank you all so, so much.
Love, Susie xx