5 Questions With: Kelly Perkins
| On June 28, Kelly Perkins' life came full circle.
Twelve years ago, Perkins made the trek alongside the Half Dome Mountain with her newly received donor heart. This time, however, she literally took the high road and climbed the mountain instead of hiking around it.
Perkins, a heart transplant recipient has made it her life's goal to send the message out and raise awareness of the need for organ and tissue donations.
But Perkins didn't just come back to the Half Dome, she came back with years of climbing and some of the highest mountains in the world under her belt. She and her husband Craig have climbed Mount Fuji, Mount Kilimanjaro, Mount Whitney, among others.
For her latest climb, Perkins teamed up with the James Redford Institute for Transplant Awareness for the "Exercise Your Heart. Share the Beat" event where a support group will hike the trail while Kelly climbs the dome.
She's climbed the highest mountains and has overcome some of the biggest obstacles.
Kelly talks with Growing Bolder and answers five questions that help explain her passion behind her climbs. To read archived articles from our 5 Questions With series, click here.
1. How was your Half Dome climb on June 28?
Elation would be a good word! The reason why is because this climb truly represents a full circle for me. For those who have read my book, The Climb of My Life, you will understand the special significance.
In a nutshell, twelve years ago, I huffed and puffed up the backside (via the trail and cables) a grueling 16.5 round trip hike, making it to the top, but had trouble on the way down and ended up in the hospital. This time, physically stronger than I have ever been, I went back to climb (scale) the sheer face of wall. This alone was a huge personal accomplishment. Now add this -- Imagine my face when I arrived to the top -- what I saw was a "human" heart! Yes, I was greeted by well wishers, friends and strangers, dressed in red t-shirts, all who had hiked the trail and were standing in the formation of a heart!
The theme of this climb was "exercise your heart, share the beat"; the intent was to pull on the heart strings of others for support and participation in the recycling of organs, blood, and tissue.
All these people who joined in to be a piece of the heart worked hard (hiking) to make this happen. It's not often that one gets to tap the universes magic -- yet another testament to the glorious human spirit!
2. You have scaled some of the highest mountains, including Mount Kilimanjaro, the Matterhorn, Mount Whitney and peaks in New Zealand. Which one was the hardest to climb and which one was the most memorable? Why?
The climbs I choose are not so much about height as they are symbolism meaning some reason beyond the summit. To answer your question is difficult, as the mountains differ in their challenges and I differ based on how I am doing at the time; meaning blood pressure and other side effects from my medications. But if I choose just one, I would have to say the Matterhorn in Switzerland and the reason is because of speed. The safest way to do this climb is alpine style, meaning travelling light and fast. Because my heart is wired differently, I rely solely and on adrenaline to induce my heart, which translates as speed is not my strength. As such, I not only had to work hard and be fast enough to initially get ahead of other climbers, but I had to work hard to stay in front. On top of this, I had a conflict with my guide who ultimately turned out to be in my best interest, yet in the heat of the moment, it was added pressure and friction.
As far as the most memorable climb, this is an unfair question as I am still under the vortex of Half Dome!
3. Right after your heart transplant, you headed to the Half Dome. Where did the inspiration come from to start climbing for transplant awareness?
Half Dome was initially selected because of its unforgettable broken shape, the natural dome sheered in half; there is an underlying symbolic message that can be taken. As I say in my book, "If it were whole, it would lose its uniqueness -- there is a profound spirit-building message in the fact that it is not perfect, yet still stands as tall and mighty as all the others." This significance was not lost on me; a message I hope to share with other organ recipients.
After this very first climb, the story was picked up in my local hometown paper. An Associated Press correspondent saw it, was inspired, and wanted to further share it. He subsequently did and his version of the story was picked up by most papers in the western U.S. All of a sudden, I had a torrent of emails and the feedback from this article (without the hospital part) and it was something I could not turn my back on. It was after this that I saw my climb and future climbs, as an opportunity or voice to share my success with others as well as bring awareness to blood, tissue, and organ donation.
4. How have your climbs inspired you?
I relish the uphill goal, from the planning, the training, the climbing, and the sharing. Physically, each summit represents to me a good health report. The feedback I get from others, knowing I am providing hope to those thirsty for good stories, nourish my soul.
5. What is your next step in your life and for your cause?
I plan to continue climbing as long as my body allows and in doing so, continue to spread hope, awareness, and participation in organ, tissue and blood donation. Maybe, just maybe I can help in closing the gap between the demand and supply!
For more information on Kelly and her cause, click here. To read about Kelly's story, check out her book, "The Climb of My Life: Scaling Mountains with a Borrowed Heart." And to read archived articles from our 5 Questions With series, click here.
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