While most of Ireland was still in bed on Wednesday morning, 117 teenagers, pre-teens, parents and teachers became the largest group to ever climb Kilimanjaro in Tanzania.
They came from 18 schools in 10 counties and were led by Irish climber Ian McKeever, in the company of 28 Africans. Among the schools represented on the record climb of Africa’s highest peak were Clonakilty Community College in Co Cork, Christian Brothers College Cork, St Munchin’s College in Limerick, CBC Monkstown in Dublin and Clongowes College in Kildare.
They were at the summit at 8am on Wednesday, or 6am Irish time, and among the first to the top was 11-year-old David Hamilton from Killaloe, Co Clare.
“I always wanted to know what I could achieve and now I know I can do anything I put my mind to and try really hard,” he said.
Sarah Pender was also in the group and the student at St Cuan’s College in Castleblakeney, Co Galway, said the fact she has cystic fibrosis is incidental.
“I’m not defined by my condition, this isn’t who I am. Never let what you can’t do interfere with what you can do,” the 17-year-old said.
A focus of the climb has been to highlight the importance of raising esteem and health-consciousness among Irish students. As well as enjoying a major adventure, the group has raised almost €100,000 for the intensive care unit at Our Lady’s Children’s Hospital, Crumlin and the Chernobyl Heart project, but there could also be benefits for the rest of the country’s teenagers.
“Our project tries to assess where students are at from a variety of different perspectives. We examine their bloods, we do personality assessments, and we place them all on a 12-week training programme that looks to build fitness, improve nutrition and overall emotional wellbeing,” said trip organiser Mr McKeever.
The findings have helped in the planning of a national project to assess the physical and emotional health of the country’s teenagers, working with 1,200 second-level students. Dr Padraig Sheerin, project medical adviser and consultant anaesthetist at Crumlin hospital said some fascinating discoveries have been made already.
“Our discoveries among those who have climbed with us show deficits in key areas that we hope to be able to address on a larger scale, such as low vitamins D and B12, iron and often poor cholesterol.”
It is the sixth Irish schools group to reach the peak this summer with Kilimanjaro Achievers, which has taken more than 350 students to the summit over the past three years.
“Many of the students who take part on the programme each year have no sporting backgrounds. We try to encourage the motto ‘attitude before altitude’,” Mr McKeever said.