Ann Ahnen and her two friends, Jane and Kathy, summited Mount
Kilimanjaro in January.
When your list
of physical achievements includes running a 50-mile race, completing
the New York City Marathon and trekking to Everest Base Camp, the next
logical question is ... what’s next? For 53-year-old Ruth Ann Ahnen
of Delafield, her answer was steadfast — climbing to the summit of
Mount Kilimanjaro in Africa.
Joined by two of
her equally active friends, Ahnen succeeded in early January, climbing
from the mountain’s base to its summit in just four and a half days
(an eight- or nine-day time frame is usually recommended). She
describes the journey as "horribly beautiful" and says its
difficulty level was far beyond anything her or her cohorts expected.
Mount Kilimanjaro’s base sits at between 4,000 and 6,000 feet, and
its highest summit, which Ahnen accessed via Gilman’s Point,
measures more than 19,200 feet. "We spent the night at 15,400
feet, woke up at 4 a.m., had something to eat, and then made the final
push to the summit," remembers Ahnen.
push" required ascending more than 3 kilometers of steep
switchback terrain, a feat that took almost 10 hours. Ahnen, a swim
coach for both the Arrowhead High School and Lake Country swim teams,
reached the top with a swim cap from each team in hand — a symbolic
nod to her students. "I take them on my adventure with me,"
she says. "I want young people to feel empowered and to know they
can do whatever they put their mind to."
climbs to raise money for cystinosis research.
15-minute pause at the summit, the group began their descent to base
camp. "We’re all sitting there (at camp), and we’re like, ‘How
the hell did we do that?’ Nobody told us it would be that
hard!" says Ahnen. "The thing that got me up there was
thinking about what I was doing this for." What Ahnen is
referring to is her 24-year-old daughter, Katie, who was diagnosed
with cystinosis at age 4. Each of Ahnen’s adventures includes a
fundraising component, with proceeds benefiting the Cystinosis
Research Foundation. Cystinosis is a rare genetic disorder, with only
2,000 known cases worldwide, so research funding is critical to
finding a cure.
And for Ahnen,
fundraising for cystinosis research by running a race or reaching the
summit of a mountain is her way of showing her daughter how much she
cares and how dedicated she is to eradicating the disease. "I’m
the kind of person that goes out and does things. My husband is the
one who sits by my daughter’s bedside. It’s a different
dynamic," she says, adding that he donated his kidney to Katie
seven years ago. "But to honor her and her life is to go do the
stuff I do. To climb a mountain or to run 50 miles."
that, for Ahnen, the physical task of climbing a mountain parallels
life itself, too. "All of us have mountains," she says.
"Maybe somebody’s mountain is not a disease or a physical
mountain to climb, but to take that big job or go back to school. A
summit is a very small place and you can’t stay there very long, so
where we really grow is in the climb." So now that she’s
summited Mount Kilimanjaro, what’s next for Ahnen? "I’ve
always had it in my mind to do a 100-miler run," she says with a
laugh. "Just to do it. We’ll see!"