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Each mountain before us offers a lesson to bring home
By Chuck Goudie | Daily Herald Columnist
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Published: 9/27/2010 12:03 AM | Updated: 9/27/2010 7:51 AM

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Everyone has a mountain to climb.

Some are blessed to able to choose their mountain, from majestic names such as Everest and McKinley.

For others, the mountain is chosen for them by fate, geography or misfortune. Theirs may be a towering illness, a jagged disability or life under an oppressive government.

This was to be a simple story of three West suburban women whose choice would carry them to the highest point in Africa. Theirs was intended as an adventure of exertion, spirit and selflessness to draw attention to the plight of millions of abused and undervalued African women.

One of the climbers was my wife, Teri, who had chosen Kilimanjaro in Tanzania as her mountain. Teri and two of her close friends, Lisa Stafford and Patty Orler, had planned and trained this year to climb Mt. Kilimanjaro - the tallest peak in Africa.

As the beneficiaries of their adventure, they identified two groups that help women in Africa:

• Opportunity International, based in Oak Brook, which provides microloans to women who then are able to start businesses and save their families. www.opportunity.org

• And the Janada Batchelor Fund, a nonprofit that builds centers where orphaned and homeless women in East Africa can get education, health care, nutrition and hope. www.jbfc-online.org

As expected, the three fit and motivated women made it to the top of Mt. Kilimanjaro last Friday. Teri's blog at: abclocal.go.com/wls/story?section=resources/lifestyle_community/community&id=7672386 provides an incredible, passionate account of the trip.

"The hardest part of the climb was between 5 a.m. and 6 a.m. The weather was at its coldest and the mountain was very, very steep," Teri wrote. "Our breathing was labored, and often times, I would have to take several steps and stop for up to 30 seconds before taking several more. I knew that I had enough energy to finish, but I had to let my breathing control the way. Once the sun started coming up, we could see what we thought was a top. It was.

"We sat on a rock, and just then, the sun came up over the horizon. It was my African moment, and I cried like a baby. On one side was the vast crater created by the volcano, and on the other side incredible ice glaciers.

"Patty, Lisa and I hugged and cried and met the rest of our group at the top. We were on top of the world in more ways than one.

What Teri didn't realize, and had no way to know, was at that very moment back home one of our good friends had died after a long and lingering illness.

Pat Doyle was one of those men who you just liked to be around. He had this wry smile, a razor-edged sense of humor and friendly, Santa Claus eyes. Pat worked on the floor at the Chicago Board of Trade in the good ol' outcry days; he was a sportsman who knew no other drink than "liquor" and was an incredibly devoted husband, father and friend.

About 10 years ago Pat got sick. For the longest time, only his closest friends knew how bad it was.

It was his mountain.

And last Friday morning, at age 61, he too made it to the top. It was an end of a long journey that he walked with the grit and purpose of a Kilimanjaro climber.

On the other side of the world, in an achievement that Pat would have loved to toast, was that mountain being conquered by choice ... but with Teri and her friends still in the dark about Pat's demise.

"The sun was starting to come up" Teri observed from 8,100 miles away and an ocean apart. As she reached the summit - at almost 20,000 feet - the hard climb was ending too for our friend. I wish I could have told her while she was at the top, because her account of it reads like such a spiritual place and ascending to the peak was certainly a spiritual moment for her:

"I broke from the rest and went by myself to a quiet spot. I dropped to my knees and prayed for all that life had given me.

"When you are climbing up, it is hard but you are focused on getting to a certain point. When you are coming down, it can be fun, but sometimes it hurts, too. The best moments are actually in the middle when you encounter a switchback. A switchback is a way to cut an angle in the mountain so that for just a few seconds you can walk on level ground. Those moments really are the sweetest of all."

After she was back at her Mt. Kilimanjaro base camp, I broke the news to Teri about our friend's passing. There is always futility in distance when you learn of death from afar. We're never formed by events like that but can be shaped by how we handle them. Teri's mountain, the one she chose to climb, taught her a lesson that she will bring home: "The tough moments in life make us stronger, the wild moments in life need to be approached with caution, but the sweet days of calm and peace are the ones really worth living for."

In the circle of life, that is a lesson that some people learn. And others choose.

But everybody gets there.

• Chuck Goudie, whose column appears each Monday, is the chief investigative reporter at ABC 7 News in Chicago. The views in this column are his own and not those of WLS-TV. He can be reached by e-mail at chuckgoudie@gmail.com and followed at twitter.com/ChuckGoudie.