Kerre McIvor

Kerre McIvor is a Herald on Sunday columnist

Kerre McIvor: Secret weapon for killer climb

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Kerre McIvor and trainer Gaz Brown in the Warriors' hypoxic chamber at their gym in Mt Smart Stadium, Auckland. Photo / Getty Images
Kerre McIvor and trainer Gaz Brown in the Warriors' hypoxic chamber at their gym in Mt Smart Stadium, Auckland. Photo / Getty Images

Just more than two weeks to go until I attempt to climb Mt Kilimanjaro as part of Team World Vision - and, I'm not afraid to say, I'm bricking it.

When I was first asked to join the group about six weeks ago, I thought it would be a wonderful experience. A once-in-a-lifetime opportunity that would be a part of spreading the word about World Vision's micro-financing scheme in Tanzania.

I love the cause: micro-financing is one of the smartest ways to give because it just keeps on going. Donate $100 to a local woman who wants to buy hairdressing equipment to open a salon in the back of her hut; she pays it back (there's a 98 per cent repayment rate); another person borrows money - perhaps for a bike so they can make vegetable deliveries - he pays it back and on it goes.

As far as charitable donations go, you get a lot of bang for your buck.
So, good cause? Check. Something to tell the grandkids? Check.

And after all, how hard can it be? Cheryl Cole climbed Kilimanjaro, for heaven's sake. Among climbers, Kili's known as the Coca-Cola climb because it's supposed to be so easy.

But as the departure date has drawn closer, I've started doing a bit more research. And what I have discovered has chilled me to the bone - 40 per cent of those who attempt the summit fail to make it. Forty per cent!

It's the altitude sickness, apparently, and there's no way of knowing if you're going to succumb until you find yourself either retching on the side of the mountain or, in the worst case, being carried down the mountain by local porters on a stretcher.

That's what happened to retired tennis player Martina Navratilova. She nearly died from pulmonary oedema - Google it and you can read all about her near-death experience on Kilimanjaro. And she would have to be one of the fittest women in the world.

Money can't buy you a successful summit, either. Roman Abramovich, the Russian squillionaire and owner of the Chelsea Football Club, attempted to climb Kili with six mates. They had 113 porters to cater for their every whim - 113!

I've been told it's poor form to have more than one porter, so 113 is beyond the pale.
But even with all the luxuries in the world, Abramovich had to turn back and he became one of the 40 per centers.

So I know what I'm getting myself into and the fear of failure is motivating me to pull out all the stops. I've given up the drink until I've climbed the thing.

I've also hired one of the toughest trainers in Auckland. As I lie on the floor whimpering that I simply can't do another bloody burpee, that I'm too old and too fat and it's too hard, he'll look down at me dispassionately and say, implacably: "It'll be a damn sight harder on Kilimanjaro. Get up. You've got 17 to go."

And, in a stroke of genius, I have been lucky enough to enjoy a secret training advantage. Because it's a good cause and because we go back a ways, the Warriors have allowed me to use their hypoxic training chamber at their Mt Smart gym - when the professional athletes aren't using it, of course.

The oxygen in the room is depleted to replicate high altitudes, and that enhances the fitness of athletes and helps people prepare for high altitudes.

I haven't disclosed this to the rest of my team but, hey, they're younger - in the case of Boh Runga and Rhys Darby - and younger and fitter, in the case of Mahe Drysdale and Juliette Haigh.

When you're old and flabby, I think it's fair enough to have a secret weapon. So there we go.

I will certainly give it my best shot. I am under no illusion that this will be much, much tougher than any old marathon. But at least the pain will be for a good cause. The marathons were just for me.

And if anyone feels like supporting the venture (and, yes, I know there are a million good causes out there and this is just another one) go to www.worldvision.org.nz and click on our team page.

Or you can bid for one of our Trade Me auctions - all of the members of the team are offering their services in one form or another. You'll have to be quick - the auction closes tomorrow night.

I'm hoping to be able to give you an update from the mountain but in the meantime, if you see a red-faced, frizzy-haired woman in hiking boots marching up and down Mt Eden, do wish me luck.

- Herald on Sunday

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