Mountain climb falls short, but woman still raises $13,000 for breast cancer charity

Last week, Nancy Klimah, a 57-year-old Bolingbrook resident, set out to climb California's Mount Shasta, a 14,179-foot mountain, all in the name of raising money for the Breast Cancer Fund.

But on June 18, despite her best efforts, Klimah said she fell short and had to go back down before she reached the summit.

Klimah, a longtime hairdresser who said she has partaken in marathons and triathlons in the past, found the whole experience bittersweet.

"From pain to happiness, I would never regret it," she said this week. "And I was able to raise all that money for a great cause. Perhaps next year I'll give it another shot."

All told, Klimah raised nearly $13,000 for the Breast Cancer Fund, far beyond her initial fundraising goal of $6,000, according to her fundraising site, prevention.breastcancerfund.org.

Klimah and a host of other participants climbed to the base camp June 17, with 40 pounds of gear on their backs, she said.

They set out at 1 a.m. on June 18 to climb the cold, windy mountain, Klimah said.

The mother of two said she was lagging behind the rest of her team, and ultimately decided to descend when another team member suffered an asthma attack.

"There was a moment when I was heading down, thinking, 'Aw, really?'" she said. "I would've liked to have done better, but I showed up the best that I could be."

Before going, Klimah promised herself that she would train hard and do her best.

"You can't come in with expectations," she said. "It's the mountain. It's Mother Nature. It's the weather. As hard as it is, you've got to let it go. That mountain wasn't in the cards for me."

Like many people, Klimah has been personally touched by the ravages of breast cancer.

She has survivors in the family, and as a hairdresser, Klimah has through the years helped make women stricken with cancer deal with the hair loss that comes with chemotherapy.

"I've shaved the heads of more women than I'd like to count," she said. "We start short, some opt to shave it all. I always tell them, you worry about your health, I'll worry about your hair."

Klimah said she took on the challenge because she wanted to do more to help those struggling with breast cancer.

"I'm one of the lucky ones," Klimah said. "I'm so far cancer-free. It was time for me to do something while I'm healthy and ready."

Klimah said she enjoyed the physical rigors involved in getting ready to summit the mountain with 35 other men and women.

"I wanted to do something not for me," she said. "I wanted to train hard for somebody else."

Klimah said she came across the fundraiser last August and began training in January.

Illinois is decidedly non-mountainous, and the Klimah said she gained new supporters when passersby saw her training in her backpack and hiking suit.

Otherwise, Klimah said training took place at the Four Lakes ski area in Lisle, Swallow Cliff in Palos Park and any set of stairs she could scale repeatedly with weights on her back.

"My promise to myself was to show up as strong as I can at 57," she said.

The whole process, despite its outcome, has been profound for Klimah.

"It's humbling," she said, "and it has truly changed me."

geoffz@tribune.com

Twitter: @JournoGeoffZ