Transforming an illness to a madness to conquer Mt Everest

Aparna Prabhudesai, India's oldest woman to climb Mt Everest
Transforming an illness to a madness to conquer Mt Everest
Received the Shiv Chhatrapati Krida Puraskar (Highest Sports Award in the State of Maharashtra)

I met Aparna as my trainer in an MNC we worked at, way back in 2003. She was a language trainer and whoever joined any business unit, needed to go through the training irrespective of the person’s fluency in the language. Her charming ways of getting across the subject matter, which was about the right diction and pronunciations for the UK and US markets to her trainees was her hallmark and undoubtedly, she was among the most admired trainers. Her beautifully draped sarees, pastel shades and sometimes, the bright hues of her attire would often be conversational pieces during coffee breaks. The next time I heard of Aparna was in 2017, splashed across social media and newspaper articles. Unbelievable! Such a huge transformation? I simply had to talk to this self-driven achiever on her journey of conquest. In my subsequent interactions with her, I realised she hadn’t just conquered Mt Everest the highest peak on Earth but she had conquered her own debilitating illness with her attitude. Bravo, Aparna!

Preparation to scale the summit: Bike ride with a blind rider from Manali to Khardungla
Preparation to scale the summit: Bike ride with a blind rider from Manali to KhardunglaPicture courtesy: Adventures Beyond Barriers Foundationm

Why did you take to mountaineering and how did it happen?

In 2011 I developed a medical condition because of which my bones would often break and I was soon told by doctors that I would not be able to walk without support. I decided to set my own destiny and declared I would prove medicine wrong and believe that I would be fine. I would run, cycle and climb the highest point on earth. This started my journey with sports to aim for Everest. In 2013, I requested the mountain to allow me to summit in 2017.

Tell us a bit about yourself and your work.

I started off as a trainer and moved into the corporate space as a facilitator conducting workshops on culture, communication and leadership. At present I work as an Achievement Coach and run my own consultancy firm.

Can you share with us your preparation for the summit and the journey towards the ultimate goal

Preparation meant learning to walk all over again. I began with short distance walk and run goals and by end of the year was participating in half marathons. This saw me run ultras and I ran a 75km which I had to finish in 11 hours (summit push is 11 hours) and cycled an ultra race 648 km. Apart from physical training, I needed to prepare myself and my family emotionally. On the north side (where I scaled from) the death rate is about 4%. I needed my children to understand the odds. I also had to prepare myself financially.

The moment of glory

On 22nd May 2017, I reached the summit of Everest at 6am local time, the sun had just come up and all the other peaks were below. We were above the clouds and I truly understood what being on top of the world felt like. I feel the universe conspired and my dream had come true.

Aparna at the summit of Mt Everest
Aparna at the summit of Mt EverestPicture courtesy: Transcend Adventures

How has life changed for you

Everest got me recognition that I hadn't imagined possible. I became India's oldest woman on Everest and it helped break a lot of stereotypes. A woman my age, a mother, a non sports person, a person of average means- every one of those stereotypes held within my culture fell away. It brought about a transformation as it built resilience in me.

What do you do now and how do you leverage your experience

I now have a foundation called Adventures Beyond Barriers for persons with disability, where we create inclusion and employment opportunities for PwDs through sports. Also, my journey has helped me in my work professionally as an Achievement Coach where I work with people on individual goal setting and achieving them.

You can reach out to Aparna at, aparna.prabhudesai@gmail.com

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