By Becky Benoit
The morning of August 6 dawned cold and grey, a frosty -15C. For 15-year old Maria Fustic, however, the day couldn’t have been more perfect. At 6:45 am, the Ecole McTavish student took her final steps up the rocky slopes of Mount Kilimanjaro to realize a dream: to reach the summit of the highest free-standing mountain on the planet.
“It really was a feeling like no other,” says Fustic, who has been recognized for her efforts with an Exceptional Kids Award, the YMCA Peace Medal, and a spot on the roster of chosen speakers for the TEDx Fort McMurray event.
Fustic’s dream of summiting the mountain was inspired by her father’s trip to Africa. “I’ve always had a passion for travel, adventure and the adrenaline rush,” she says. “My dad came back from Africa with so many amazing stories to tell, and I knew I had to climb that mountain.”
Fustic decided to use the adventure as a means of raising money for malaria relief in Africa, a disease which kills 3,000 African children a day. She outshot her initial goal of $10,000 and has raised more than $16,000 to date. Her new fundraising goal is $19,340, the height of Mount Kilimanjaro in feet.
Preparation for the journey up the mountain was arduous. Each weekend for the month prior to the trip, Fustic and her father travelled to the Rockies to climb the range’s highest peaks, not only to increase Fustic’s fitness level but also to combat altitude sickness.
The trek up the mountain was rife with challenges. “There were so many factors that I didn’t even think about contributing to how hard it would be,” Fustic says. “At the top it was -15, which isn’t a big deal for those of us in Fort McMurray, but after being in plus-30 weather for such a long time, it was really cold.”
“We had camelbacks for water, and they froze,” she adds. “We were lucky to have water in bottles, or we wouldn’t have made it to the top, because of dehydration.” “Sometimes you took three steps up and slid back two,” Fustic recalls of the journey to the summit. “You just had to keep going.”
Fustic says kids in Fort McMurray are uniquely placed to be able to fundraise for charities. “Living in such a giving community, it’s easy to raise money and once you do, trust me, you’ll feel great!” she says. “Even if charities aren’t your thing, what’s important is to have fun and do what you love to do whether that’s charity,climbing mountains, snowboarding, soccer, whatever.”
She adds her now trademark phrase, “Just reach your own summit!”