David Williams is a man on a mission for mental health. The 28-year-old teacher from Edgewater College in Pakuranga is focused on becoming the first person to climb the highest mountain in every continent in the world from sea level.
He recently completed stage one of seven in his mission when he finished the gruelling sea to summit up Mt Kilimanjaro in Tanzania. Williams ran over nine marathons in nine days to get to the mountain and then had two days' rest before a five-day climb to the summit.
His ultimate goal is to raise $100,000 for the Mental Health Foundation before he finishes the seventh summit. Mt Kilimanjaro was the perfect place to start his mission.
"My research says that no one has completed a sea to summit ascent of Mt Kilimanjaro," said Williams, who is a former NZ trampoline rep.
"I have always wanted to see Africa and climb Mt Kili and I felt this was the perfect way to do both."
His partner Ally was his support during the run and climb and was waiting at each checkpoint with motivation and supplies.
"She practised her Swahili and met some really interesting local people. We stayed in small local communities along the way to get a real Tanzanian experience."
Williams also got the real Tanzanian experience on the road. "The buses and trucks adhere to no road rules and were crazy. I was constantly ducking off the road to avoid becoming road-kill."
He knows that his incredible journey has only just begun.
"I have only completed one summit, so I am giving myself three years to complete the other six summits. It is going to be a great challenge."
What inspired you to take on this sea2summit7 ?Hundreds of people have climbed the highest peak in each continent, called the seven summits challenge, but nobody has climbed each peak from sea level. This way you climb every metre of the mountain and get an adventure along the way. I have always loved endurance events and the outdoors. This was a perfect way to combine two passions and test myself physically.
You are running for mental illness - have you had someone you know affected by mental illness? I had two friends of mine lose their battle against depression. They were both great and talented young men who struggled with how powerful the mind can be. In mountaineering it is 90 per cent mental so I am also faced with conquering inner battles. This run is a metaphor for never giving up. The finish line is not always marked with tape. Focus on the true reason motivating you and one foot will continue to follow the other.
What did your friends and family think of you taking this on?
Most of them thought I was mad, but strangely none of them were surprised, and have all been more than supportive. My friend and manager Ryan Pellet was the one who developed the idea and encouraged me to get started. He invited me on a sea to summit of Mt Taranaki from the west coast. It was on this adventure where he sparked the idea of sea2summit7. My sponsors Bivouac outdoors instantly loved the concept and have been a huge support for me.
How did you prepare for something like this?
I moved to Perth as the climate was very similar as I would not have been able to prepare for the heat in NZ. Then I would work three days a week and run as much as possible. Leading up to the run I was running close to 200km per week and being really careful with my diet.
Have you done anything like this before?
In January I attempted the sea to summit of Mt Aconcagua across Chile and Argentina. I walked from the coast 260km carrying all of my mountain kit. A storm on my summit day forced me to turn around close to the top but I learned valuable lessons.
What was the hardest part and most rewarding part of the first one?
The final day was the toughest day of my life. I had to run 51km instead of 42km. The last 13km had an altitude gain of 1000m and my body had already started to wind down as it knew this was my last day. Funnily enough the final day of the run was also the most rewarding. Reaching Machame gate after nine days and 387km was a dream come true. Standing on the summit was a very close second but I knew that the run was the real test of this adventure.
How did the first sea2summit work logistically?
I would run the first half after a light breakfast of fruit and juice then Ally would meet me and I would have something more substantial. Then I would run for another 5-10km and meet the car again for rehydration or a snack. This would continue till I reached 42km. Then we would [drive] to the next small town. The next morning I would [start at] the exact spot I finished yesterday and continue running. Food was a real challenge as there were very limited options here. I basically stuffed myself with goat, rice, fruit, potato and ugali (local bread) and mixed up chocolate milk when we could find it for recovery.
How good was the feeling when you finished the ninth marathon?
Absolutely incredible! I would love to say that I jogged up to the gate and gave everyone stiff handshakes but the truth is I broke down in front of a crowd of very confused locals. Ally was the only one waiting at the gate who knew what was going on. This was the hardest thing I have ever done and to feel that much pleasure after so much pain was very special.
What is next on the agenda?
Mt Kosciusko in NSW this December. It should be the most straightforward of the seven but also one of the most off-road. Then when I can get some more funding I will go back and finish Mt Aconcagua and continue to tick off the mountains as I acquire the funds and time to do so.
What advice do you offer to other people looking to overcome adversity / challenges in their own lives?
Failure and success can only be measured against how hard you tried. Challenges are just another form of life's lessons so take the path less travelled and see where you end up.