By Vivek Goenka, executive director of Warren Tea Ltd and EO Kolkata member
We began the MyEO Go Beyond group three years ago with the goal of making members go beyond their comfort zones and achieve something that they truly felt was impossible—to go beyond their realms of imagination as they pursue and accomplish dreams that genuinely make a mark in their lives.
I was guilty of sitting back for many years, and MyEO offered the perfect opportunity to explore and achieve incredible things with my EO buddies. After the success of the first two MyEO Go Beyond events—the 25-kilometer Kolkata Marathon in 2014 and the Trek to Everest Base Camp in 2015—it was time for something faster, higher and stronger. We set our sights on the tallest free-standing mountain in the world: Mount Kilimanjaro.
Mount Kilimanjaro stands at 19,341 feet and is the highest peak in Africa. The trek is one of the hardest treks in the world, with a success rate of only 60%.
We announced the event at our Chapter Annual General Meeting in July, and immediately 18 members registered—far more than we expected. Training commenced in September 2016 and continued for nearly five months. It consisted of high-intensity interval training, cardiovascular training, mobility exercises, stair climbing and long walks.
On 18 February, 2017, we departed for Africa for the eight-day trek to Mount Kilimanjaro up the Lemosho route. We were trekking around five to seven hours on most days in varying weather conditions and different terrains. I recall day four in particular, when we climbed to Lava Tower (4,600 meters). En route, a hailstorm came and lasted for over an hour. We had to cover ourselves in rain gear to protect our bodies from the hail. While on top of Lava Tower many people fell sick because of the altitude.
We hit our first hurdle on day five, when one of our buddies developed acute mountain sickness (AMS) and her oxygen levels fell to below 50%. She and her husband were immediately rushed down the mountain to ensure her safety. Nonetheless, the rest of the group continued. The conditions were tough and we faced extreme weather conditions. The weather played foul on many days, and we experienced sudden downpours of rain and, at times, snow and hail interspersed with hot spells of sunshine. There were many hardships—pain, AMS, headaches—and we had to support each other to ensure nobody faltered under these extreme conditions.
Our passion kept us going, and we slowly inched forward, one step at a time. The day before the final ascent, we camped at Kosovo camp, around 15,000 feet, still a good 4,500 feet from Uhuru Peak. The evening before the summit was particularly difficult. Another of our buddies fell extremely sick with AMS and was rushed down the mountain. The 15 of us who remained were in the most difficult test of our lives. That evening at 5:30 pm, we gathered for dinner and I saw only solemn faces.
People were exhausted, their physical capacities diminished by five tough days of labor. In front of us stood the peak, which seemed many impossible miles away. All of us were suffering from some form of AMS, headaches, and nausea. The weather was cold, windy and snowing. I recall giving a motivational talk that evening. I spoke from my heart and said everything I could to keep everyone in high spirits. I vividly recall that night being one of the scariest of my life because of the thunderous wind hitting the tents all night.
We got up at midnight and prepared to make the final ascent to the top of Africa. The final stretch to the top of Kilimanjaro is by far the hardest—pitch dark, cold and windy. Oxygen levels are extremely low. Walking at only 1 km per hour, most of us were still panting with every step. There was not one single point that someone was not thinking of giving up, but we continued with patience and perseverance.
Finally at 8:40 am, we arrived at Uhuru peak.
There are no words in the dictionary that can describe our feelings at that moment. After many hugs and many tears, we headed back down.
This event was truly an inspiration to me. Personally, climbing Mount Kilimanjaro let me check off a bucket list item. Additionally, despite serious aches and pains, every single person managed to achieve something that they will cherish for the rest of their lives thanks to their dedication, hard work and passion. Lastly, this was the best crash course in leadership that one can imagine.
During those many weeks of training and the trek itself, I think I used every personal asset that an entrepreneur has. From shouting at my EO buddies if they missed training to motivating them when they were down, keeping my calm when things were amiss to trying to be a role model by showing courage at every point—I tried everything and it eventually paid off.
MyEO Go Beyond has truly been a motivational story for many people. As we grow fitter and stronger, the treks and challenges become harder and tougher. Nevertheless, we prevail because of our passion to Go Beyond.