Exhaustion. Nausea. Hunger. Body aches. No social media. Who would trade the comfort of a bed or couch for this? Nike Ohonme, that’s who.
24-years-old, mission-led and determined to leave her mark on the world through service, Ohonme surpassed even her own expectations of perseverance when she climbed Mount Kilimanjaro, Africa’s highest mountain, this past summer. More than a check on the millennial’s travel bucket list, the 6-day trip quickly proved to be a journey of self-discovery, spiritual awakening and a major validation of dopeness (because if you can literally climb a mountain, what can’t you do?). And if climbing one of the world’s most intimidating mountains wasn’t enough, Ohonme also paid it forward by participating in a mission trip in conjunction with the climb. #TravelGoals, anyone?
Done in partnership with Samaritan’s Feet, a global nonprofit humanitarian aid organization providing shoes to children living in poverty, as part of the trip, before beginning the climb, Ohonme and others from her travel crew served 500 local community members by washing their feet and distributing the World Shoe. According to the World Health Organization, more than 1.5 billion people globally are affected by a soil-transmitted disease that could be prevented by wearing proper footwear. In response, Samaritan’s Feet developed a shoe that can prevent the contraction of various diseases and treat existing wounds and infections with the help of an anti-microbial agent inside the shoe’s material. The shoe is made of breathable material for hot climates and is wider in width to allow healing.
We recently sat down with the recent college grad and climber to discuss the monumental trip and its impact on her life.
Most people don’t wake up and just decide to climb a mountain. What specifically made you decide to climb Mt. Kilimanjaro?
I wanted to do something big, something that would make me challenge myself to new physical, emotional and spiritual heights. I was needing more for myself. This trip was a way for me to achieve those things, all while supporting my parents, and their 15 years of global service.
For so long I did things because I was too young to choose it for myself. I wanted to participate in an event truly because I believed in the vision. I wanted to own something for myself.
How did you prepare for the trip and climb?
I started training in January and I was working really hard and doing a lot of weights. It involved lots of walking, cardio, eating healthily and praying. I came into this with very little expectation of what it would take to accomplish a feat so intimidating. I was surprised of how much of it was mental besides being physical.
Talk about your experience hiking Africa’s largest mountain?
Mt. Kilimanjaro is a beast, one to be respected. There were many times I literally stopped and thought ‘we’re actually climbing this thing, in this moment, and no one forced me.’ The days were filled with high adrenaline and diverse ecosystems. We’d be in the rain forest one day and suddenly transition to the desert. Each day our altitude increased and so did the weather. One moment it’d be 60 degrees or 20 degrees, then it’d rain and it’d be 90 degrees and windy. We never knew what to expect, all while walking [2 to 3 miles each day] with three to six layers of clothing.
What was the most difficult part of the climb?
I actually did not make it to the top. I got very, very sick. I made it to Gilman’s point which is the certification point of the mountain. The only reason I made it that before is because one of the guides literally carried me. There were many moments throughout the climb that I was literally crawling on my hands and knees. At that point, if I didn’t do it, there’d be no proof that I had made it that fair. I had never really considered how fair I could push my body and it was phenomenal to push myself. It was one of the hardest things I’ve ever done. It was no joke, at all.
Besides the physical and emotional barriers [I] had to knock down in order to keep moving, the spiritual [effects took] the biggest toll on me. This may be quite personal, but is very important to my quest for the summit. I came into the trip believing that I could receive answers on certain areas of my life that needed clarity. I was craving answers through introspection and hard questions to ask God about who I am and what needed to change in my 24-year-old heart and mind. What I left with was the realization that my firm 3-year relationship with an amazing guy needed to come to an end. This hit me after only six days of self-reflection, intimacy in praying and talking to Jesus with no distractions from anyone or anything, I felt in my heart we needed to part ways, I feel as if I’m supposed to share this because I think it’s important to note that, even in planning, and expectations, challenges will always arise, it’s not about how we react, by how we respond to taking the hill one day at a time. This realization challenged and strengthened me.
Tell us a little about the experience of the foot washing particularly knowing that many of the children you encounter are gravely ill or in immense pain because of improper footwear.
It humbles you tremendously. Personally, I’m not a big fan of feet so this was a big deal for me. When you’re sitting with a little boy or girl whose feet are so severely damaged because they don’t have the necessary shoes, it really breaks your heart and makes you want to help. [Foot washing] forced me to get down and dirty with my own emotions. At times it was awkward, I was uncomfortable and there was a language barrier however, the end goal was so much bigger than myself. It’s a very intimate moment that I think more Americans in particular should experience. For someone to sit down, be vulnerable and let someone wash their feet is truly a leap of faith and such a personal moment — I was honored to be part of it. It could easily be any of us on the other side and thankfully it’s not. Gratefulness was the ultimate takeaway.
How are you a different person after this?
It’s really in the smaller things that I do. I push a little harder and go a little longer. Spiritually, I know I should read my Word, love people, etc., but this has shown me I need to go further. It’s not a grand transformative lifestyle change but it’s pushed me to examine how I engage and carry myself in my daily life, which has in turn changed me forever.
Having had this global experience, what philanthropic efforts will you do next?
I don’t think there’s a next. I think it’s living everyday life on mission to seek and serve others who are just as, or less fortunate as myself.
To learn more about Nike’s trip and Samaritan’s Feet, click here.