Emory University | Woodruff Health Sciences Center
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Nursing student-athlete conquers Mount Kilimanjaro

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Emory volleyball player and nursing student Maureen Schick, second from the left here, checked an item off her bucket list when she climbed Mount Kilimanjaro with her family this summer. Image courtesy of Schick family

While many college students spend their summers working, taking an extra class, or hanging out by the pool, nursing student Maureen Schick had a different plan in mind when classes ended in May: climbing Mount Kilimanjaro.

Schick, who transferred to Emory last year, is working on a traditional BSN. She also helped earn Emory’s NCAA Division III 2018 volleyball title and has always enjoyed the outdoors.

“My family loves getting outside and trekking, no matter how big or small the hike,” she says. “One of my most vivid memories is a hike we did at the Grand Canyon. We camped there overnight and then climbed all the way out the next day. It was so memorable!”

The idea to tackle Mount Kilimanjaro —Africa’s tallest mountain and the tallest freestanding mountain in the world—took root when Schick’s parents were medical workers in Tanzania in 2009.

“While we were there, we saw Mount Kilimanjaro, which is so majestic,” says Schick. “Since then, climbing it has been on all of our bucket lists.”

Schick had an idea of what lay ahead, considering she hiked Harder Kulm Mountain in Switzerland last summer. She prepares for her climbs through running, hiking, and a variety of other activities. Part of her training for Mount Kilimanjaro included two weeks in Colorado this spring, hiking parts of Rocky Mountain National Park with her siblings.

“Preparing for this sort of climb takes tons of time,” she says. “It’s not like training for a race where you get the miles in and you’re set. The best way to prepare is to put on a backpack and hike for hours at the time.”

Schick’s father, brother, and two sisters joined her on the Mount Kilimanjaro climb, along with three guides and 17 porters. They spent eight days on the mountain: six climbing and two coming down.

At least half the people who set out to climb Kilimanjaro don’t finish, but Schick’s family all reached the summit.

“The toughest aspect of the climb is overcoming the altitude,” she says. “You have just one-third of the oxygen we normally breathe, so you can get tired or sick very quickly. We were very lucky going up. Once we reached summit night, I don’t think any of us doubted that we would make it.”

The group left camp around midnight to make the last hike to the summit.

“We reached the top around 6:30 a.m. on June 16, just as the sun was rising. It was one of the most incredible sights I had ever seen. We felt euphoric because we had all made it together and had overcome so much to get there.”

“It made it all the more special that it was Father’s Day, and we were able to celebrate our dad who was the one who made it happen,” she adds.

The group spent about 45 minutes at the summit before the effects of the altitude began to wear on them and they had to start their two-day descent.

“There’s something incredibly special about checking off a bucket list item with your family. I hope I always remember what it felt like to stand at the summit, along with the memories of camping and hiking together,” says Schick.

Her journey is one that other people also will remember.

“I am so incredibly proud of her,” says Emory’s head volleyball coach Jenny McDowell. “She is a relentless competitor, a hard-working athlete, and passionate about her physical training. It absolutely does not surprise me that she was able to summit Mount Kilimanjaro.”

Whether she’s preparing for her next mountain climbing adventure (Mont Blanc in the Swiss Alps), volleyball season, or her next semester of nursing school, Schick finds parallels that translate to everyday life.

“When a goal seems incredibly daunting, it becomes much more feasible if you split it into smaller goals,” she says. “If we had looked at climbing Kilimanjaro as a 50 kilometer hike, it would have seemed unattainable. It becomes so much easier to manage when you break it down into smaller increments.”—Leigh DeLozier

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