Climbing Stairways to Heaven

A commitment to get fit led this Orlando man to climb stairs for three hours every weekend as training for his successful ascent to the top of Mount Kilimanjaro. 

ORLANDO – Despite the endless list of weight-loss programs and fitness regimes, Greg Simmons came up with a novel way to lose 40 pounds.

He decided to climb Mount Kilimanjaro, the highest point in Africa – at 19,341 feet -- and the tallest, freestanding inactive volcano in the world. And he succeeded.

"I realized that if I combined vacation with a major goal, I not only was going to have the opportunity to see beautiful places around the world, but I would get into shape and challenge myself at the same time," Simmons said.

Mountain climbing, however, is not completely new to Simmons. The brainchild came to him while on vacation in Colorado when he had the chance to climb several mountains in Crested Butte.

Greg Simmons takes a moment to enjoy the beauty of his magnificent surroundings

Take the Stairs… For Three Hours

To prepare, the business banking sales manager at PNC Bank set several small goals: a 5k race and a 10-mile race. Every weekend for about three hours, he also climbed 200 flights of stairs and nine levels of the parking garage at the PNC office building. Three times a week, he was working out at a gym or doing yoga.

He also received guidance from Bob Lowry, a PNC co-worker in Washington, D.C., who has climbed six of the seven major mountains of the world.

I had a healthy respect for what I was about to do, so I tried to be as prepared as possible considering there are no mountains in Florida. I believe knowing that I did everything possible to prepare as much as possible for the climb was the secret to my success.

Hail, Slush, Stomach Bug

During the Mount Kilimanjaro ascent in January 2015, weather posed a huge challenge. Simmons’ group experienced hail, slush, rain and sunshine, sometimes all in the same day. On summit day, they climbed from midnight to 8 a.m. and used headlamps to see.

“We were constantly changing clothes — sometimes I was sweaty on one side of my body and cold on the other," Simmons said. "To add to the weather challenges, I became ill with a stomach virus halfway through the climb. Staying motivated was a daily struggle.”

According to Simmons, the biggest challenge was the altitude, so the group’s strategy was to climb very slowly. “I felt like a cow being prodded to the top of the mountain.”

Kilimanjaro climbers take a much-needed break as the weather gets worse during the ascent to the summit of the 19,341 foot mountain

Friends In High Places

On the way up, he met groups from Australia, Poland, Canada, France and the U.S., and saw plant life that does not exist anywhere else on earth. Once at the top, he celebrated the moment, enjoyed the incredible view, started the descent and reached bottom by the seventh day.

For me, the experience had a lot of parallels to my work. Having a team was essential; you can't do this alone. We had a goal, we prepared, had a good leader, persevered against all odds, made smart decisions, took small steps and focused on what we needed to do each day. We also celebrated often; the moments announced themselves, like taking joy in an occasional 360-degree view.

Climbing Mount Kilimanjaro was a major goal on Simmons bucket list. Now that he has reached the summit, he is ready to tackle the next big frontier in physical fitness: a triathlon, which consists of a quarter mile of swimming in the ocean, biking for 15 miles, and running for 3.2 miles.

“I'm not done challenging myself. I’ve been running, biking and started swimming so I’ll be ready to do my first triathlon,” he added. “Swimming is hard work. I run on oxygen depletion most of the time, but I’m building up to 12 laps without stopping. Really, my goal is just to complete it and in the future do more so I can make it part of my lifestyle.”

After that, he would like to climb Machu Picchu in Peru, but that challenge is still a few more flights of stairs away. 

Greg Simmons received guidance from a PNC co-worker who has climbed six major mountains

Where you've been can inspire you while you're on the way to the top.