Lei Wang may be about to accomplish something by her calculations only nine other peoplehave done thus far: stand on top of the 7 Summits and ski the lastdegree to north and south poles – assuming she summits Everest about 3months from now.
Growing up in China, Lei spent her weekends catching fish and shrimpbut not thinking of climbing mountains and adventure. Her dream was tobe a doctor, a scientist or maybe a writer. Her parents neverconsidered her hidden passion for exploration.
But all that changed when she stood on top of Kilimanjaro. Somethingspoke to her and she went on to climb five more of the seven summitsand ski to both poles. When she discovered that no Chinese woman hadclimbed the 7 Summits, her resolve was set.
She attended Beijing’s Tsinghua University graduating with a degreein computer science and then moved to the US in 1995 to attendUNC-Chapel Hill. After a few years in the workplace, she returned toschool and graduated from Wharton Business School with her MBA. But atthis junction in life, she choose climbing and adventure over thetraditional post-MBA route. Lei said of her decision:
“Pursuing a dream, even if I may fail, is better thannot trying at all. Life only becomes full of life when you live it withpassion. How do you have passion without a dream?”
Lei is a small woman, 5 ‘2″ 120lbs so carrying a 60lb pack proved tobe a challenge. She trained hard and added marathons to her regime.This taught her mental toughness as well as improved her endurance.
Her learning curve to Everest has not been easy. It took threeclimbs to reach the summit of Aconcagua. She was turned back by weatheron Denali only to summit finally in the midst of a whiteout. She torethe MCL/LCL in her left knee while training on Mount Adams. And shelearned valuable lessons on Carstensz Pyramid and in Antarctica
On Carstensz: … keeping yourself focused and disciplined when yourepeat the process so many times, that your mind tends to wander –risking a fall, especially when you’re tired and want to get downquickly. A good climber needs to keep their cool in all situations, bedisciplined to follow the proper procedures and stay alert and focusedall times, especially after a long day.
In Antarctica: To adapt to life in Antarctica, you have to staywarm. You have to carefully manage the layers so you don’t sweat toomuch while moving, yet cover up every inch of your skin to avoid frostbite.
In spite of all these lessons and courage, Lei Wang has yet toconfront one of her biggest challenges – inform her parents she isclimbing Mt. Everest a month from now.
Lei took a moment to share her story and dreams with me.
Q: As a child in China, were you ever exposed to mountaineering?
No. Athletic activities belong to Olympic elites in normal people’smind, and mountaineering is a completely foreign subject to a bookwormwho grew up in city. Everest was as far as the moon.
Q: You came to US and received your MBA from prestigiousWharton University. Why did you start climbing instead of working onyour career?
I saw a glacier mountain for the first time in my life when I signedup a trip to Cotopaxi (Ecuador) out of curiosity. It was part ofschool’s leadership and teamwork training program. Though I took itwith a tourist’s mentality and didn’t give too much thought after thetrip, it was the starting point of my future adventure. In later years,after watching some documentary movies and reading books aboutmountaineering, I found my heart totally captured by those adventures.Nothing has ever drawn me so strongly in my past life, so I justfollowed the call.
Q: The movie, Touching The Void frightens most people away from mountaineering. Why did it inspire you?
When I was watching that movie, I was feeling more admiration thanfear. Such heroic behavior was superhuman to me and unknown, but Iadmire it. So I started to wonder if I, a normal person, can dosomething challenging. That’s how I decided on Everest.
Not only do I want to see how far I can push myself, I also want tobe able to show others that anyone can do this with proper training andvision. There was something more to life than just toiling away. Livinga life of boredom is just as bad as living a life in fear.
Q: Lei, please tell us what the Chinese saying “you zhi zhe shi jing cheng” means and why it is important to you.
It translates to “one with determination will achieve his/her goal”.This is a very commonly used motto when we were growing up in China.Parents and teachers always encourage kids with this saying to set ahigher goal for life and go for it. So it’s in my blood. Of course,later on, with more experience, I also learned about the balancebetween making smart decisions and being determined.
Q: You had a low blood oxygen saturation on Aconcagua, does that concern you given Everest is another 6000’ higher?
Yes, this is a concern for me. I think more time in acclimatization process would help.
I adopted this training technique when I was training to ski to thepoles, where you would be pulling a sled of 100+ lbs every day. It wasthe closest form one can simulate the motion in normal setting. Itbuilds endurance in legs and in core muscles. My personal trainer,David Memont of MyStrengthDiscovery, highly recommends me mimicking themovements that I’m going use in my expeditions as much as possible.Focus on functional training as opposed to just bodybuilding exercises.
Training for a low oxygen environment requires me to be veryefficient in using oxygen, and Dave has been increasing my workload soI can manage increasing loads in intense situations.
Q: You obviously have the physical strength to climb, tellus how you prepare for the mental challenges of high altitudemountaineering?
In altitude mountaineering, the mental challenges include lonelinessand uncertain outcome. It’s very hard to communicate with others undersuch situation; you don’t have teams cheering around you as you have ina race. You are your own cheer leader and you are the only one you cantalk to when you are suffering and are not sure what happens next.
The summit is normally not visible before you step on it, and youkeep on wondering if a storm would move in, or something unexpected canhappen that keep you from reaching the summit. All you can do so tokeep a positive attitude no matter what happens and keep pushingyourself. When I’m doing my lonely training in cold winter or in darknight, I talk to myself the same way.
What I’ve learned is that you have to be very self motivated andfocus on the task at hand. Mountaineering is more like a marathon thana 100m sprint. You have to mentally set yourself a series of smallgoals to yourself, and push yourself to achieve them. It’s not just tosummit, but to reach the next cornice, or the next belay point…
Q: You were concerned about telling your parents you were going to Everest. Have you told them yet and how did it go?
Still not yet. I will talk to my brother next week first. It’s notthat I am scared, or problems with our communication. Climbing was aforeign subject to me just a few years ago, and it was a completelyforeign subject to all my family all their lives. For parents whoworked hard all their lives to give their daughter the best education,set her on a track of great career and normal life, climbing as apassion for life is very hard for them to understand. They are startingto understand that what I want in my life is different from socialnorm. They are slowly coming to accept it and try to support me. But Iworry that they can’t sleep and worry too much if they know what I amreally into. I worry about putting them through too much stress.
Q: You are an inspiration to everyone Lei. What message do you want to tell anyone considering a difficult goal?
It can be broken down to three aspects:
- Have a vision: What do you want to achieve? Set goals: By what time do you want to achieve your vision?
- Do your research first, know the path that can lead you closer tothat goal and what you need to learn. It may be very difficult to seethe direct line connecting current starting point to that goal, but setyour eyes on the small step right in front you with the faraway goal inyour mind. You will move closer toward that goal with each step youtake.
- Get help: Figure out how you are going to achieve those goals. Whatresources do you need? I realized that I can’t do everything myself andneeded to have help from others. The bigger the goal the harder it isto do it yourself…It was with the help from my friends and sponsorsthat I came this close to my goal.
Q: Any other thoughts for your followers?
Everyone has his/her own challenges in everyday life. Set a goal andmake a plan, then keep your faith to work towards it. No matter howunimportant that goal may appear to other people, it is your goal andit takes effort. You will be the one to enjoy the reward and happinesswhen you reach your goal with your own effort. And HAVE FUN while doingit!!!
Once Lei completes her vision, she wants to continue climbing andperhaps go for a full crossing to both the north and south poles. Leialso told me that she is “interested in having more women involved infuture trips and to motivate more normal people to participate, insteadof focusing on personal pursuits”
I think we will be hearing a lot about Lei for a long time.
Best of luck Lei. She is climbing with IMG. You can follow her on her blog.
Arnette is a speaker, mountaineer and Alzheimer's Advocate. You can read more on his site