Rebecca Amitai
Rebecca Amitai

Reunion at the Airport
Monday, February 20
Our group first met in person in July 2016. We all convened in Denver for a weekend and got to know each other. We had meals together and roomed together. We climbed a 14er together and shared long car rides. We learned about each other's backgrounds and personalities and became friends.
 
Between Facebook and emails we kept in touch and learned about our families, neighborhoods, training and even our health. Before we knew it the posts were about gear and training, about packing duffels and repacking.
 
Today we donned our orange MMRF shirts and sporting our orange day packs we met again - this time in Amsterdam to board the same flight to Kilimanjaro airport. The first leg of my trip began in New York’s JFK airport. Whereas the full team reunion is Amsterdam, meeting teammates/friends Jim Brophy and Kelley Ward at JFK fired up my adrenaline. After a year of preparation, the Kili trip is really here.
 
I write this on the flight to Kili as we fly over Sudan. We all met up in Amsterdam, Gate E3, as planned. The JFK group were the first to land and soon everyone was there - arriving from Boston, Juno, Atlanta, California and layovers in Amsterdam. We easily spotted each other by our orange gear and because the faces are familiar. The hugs were big bear hugs and felt great. We are tired from the travel and excited and elated.
 
We are now a group of friends, proud to be the MMRF Kilimanjaro 2017 team. Hoping the fundraising will enable the MMRF to fund more and more important research. Hoping for a cure.
 
The monitor says we land in Kilimanjaro in two hours. The reunion continues! #MM4MM                                                                                
From Couch Potato to Ultra-Marathoner to Kilimanjaro Climber
Sunday, February 05
I’m 59.  In the last 10 years, I’ve completed five marathons and three ultramarathons.  I’ve also completed numerous 50- to 100-mile bikes rides here and in Israel. Add at least 15 sprint and Olympic triathlons to the list, and probably about 100 short races, meaning three miles to 13.1 or half-marathon distance.
 
This is not so unusual, until you factor in that I first “exercised” in 2005, when I was about 47. I did plenty of other things – raising three kids, attempting to make my house a home, working full-time on Wall Street, trying to be a valued member of my community. Certainly, I didn’t sleep much and almost never broke a sweat!
 
It all changed when I was offered an early retirement package by my firm. At first, I viewed it as a sabbatical and worried a little about what would now fill my time. I started compiling a list of things that I didn’t have time for when I was working but could have time for during a sabbatical. Learning about gardening and horticulture was first on the list, and getting involved in some non-profits was next on the list. Getting in shape was next, and being out of shape, believe me when I say I didn’t know where to begin. I certainly didn’t know where I wanted to end up.
 
A good friend was turning 50 and wanted to complete her first triathlon. She asked me to join her. It was just a sprint distance race, considered quite short, but still pretty daunting for someone that couldn’t swim across the pool, didn’t own a bike, and hadn’t run a 5K since I was 20. I figured this sounded like it would help me tackle “getting in shape.” I signed up in February of 2005 and started training. Pretty much every day I did two of the three activities. Once a week, I included some weight training and some yoga.  The work was hard, and to any onlookers, it wasn’t pretty.  But I got my first finisher medal for that event in June, and what a sense of accomplishment that gave me. I got the bug, and decided I wanted to train more and get a little better. Late that year, I lucked into a bib for the NYC Marathon and managed to train to run 26.2 miles. I was far from fast, but I finished.
 
At that point, I was hooked. Hooked on the endorphins? Maybe. Hooked on the sense of accomplishment when you commit to doing the impossible and figure out how to train for it and get it done. Hooked on the sense of community in my tri team and other “racing” friends.  All this fun made me decide that the sabbatical should morph into retirement, and I was beyond happy recreating myself post Wall Street.
 
When I heard the Multiple Myeloma Research Foundation was climbing Kilimanjaro, I decided I really wanted to be a part of it.  A good friend was battling multiple myeloma. Kilimanjaro was scary and a big assignment, but so was my friend’s battle. And, hopefully, nothing that I can’t physically train for, mentally prepare for and conquer.
 
And yes, I did pursue horticulture training and non-profit work. I’ve designed and planted and collaborated on quite a few vegetable gardens in my suburban community!!
 
I Climb for Those Who Can't
Thursday, January 19
I was supposed to be climbing Kilimanjaro with my good friend, Anne. We’ve made each other laugh for over 35 years, and despite having multiple myeloma she’s much fitter and stronger than I could ever hope to be.
 
The Kilimanjaro trip came to my attention back in January 2016 from a friend on the trip who has been a longtime supporter of the Multiple Myeloma Research Foundation (MMRF). That day, I had a difficult phone call with Anne. It was six months after her stem cell transplant, and despite being in remission and feeling physically strong, she was down emotionally. I took a shot and asked if she would consider doing the Kilimanjaro climb with me in February 2017.  Her voice became strong and upbeat and without hesitation she said, “yes, it’s a no-brainer, let’s do it!”  We signed up for the trip together that day.
 
As her mood became elated, so did mine. It seemed like the perfect adventure to share and also, a great way to attempt to “give back.” Through Anne and others, I was learning about the amazing work being done by MMRF. They have been instrumental in helping to fast track new drugs that are lengthening patients’ life expectancies by orders of magnitude, and getting us closer to a cure.
 
Both Anne and I have dreamt for decades of climbing Kilimanjaro. It’s a bucket list item for both of us, so sharing this adventure gave it real purpose and felt like kismet. But Anne’s doctors wouldn’t give her medical clearance. Despite feeling strong, they felt it was too soon for this type of physical undertaking in a remote part of the world. And we began chatting about other possible adventures we could undertake together a year or two from now. Maybe Mt Fuji or Everest Base Camp. 
 
Unfortunately, last month, Anne noticed some lumps. She had them checked out, and she’s officially relapsed. She’s having a series of infusions which, if all goes well, will hopefully lead to another stem cell transplant.  Even though she is feeling pretty good, she is basically back to fighting for her life. The doctors reassure her that they have identified this particular strain of multiple myeloma and still have weapons in their cache of ammunition. 
 
Sadly, I had hoped and planned to do this trip with Anne. I wanted her to be one of the amazing people in the group. Instead, I’m here talking and writing about her strength, optimism and courage. Despite the endless reassurances, I’m hoping I’m doing the right thing by tackling it without her. She will be in my heart and in my head the whole way up and down that mountain.  I hope she will be by my side if we get to tackle another big adventure for the MMRF.
 
 
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