Carol Masheter is an author, speaker, world traveler, former scientist, and the oldest woman in the world to summit all nine of the Seven Summits, the highest peak in each continent. You better believe she has some incredible stories in her past of being resilient! One of Carol’s earliest experiences of resilience was when she was just 6 years old. She was a polio patient in 1953 during one of the big polio epidemics. She was confined in an isolation ward, similar to the times we are living in right now with COVID-19. She was sick, isolated, and even her parents were not allowed to visit her. She was there for 2 weeks, receiving treatments that we now know are ineffective, even harmful, and that felt like torture, especially to a six-year-old girl. Intravenous horse serum made her delirious. She got blisters from steamed cloths that they placed on her body before they were cooled.
During this painful time, Carol found a silver lining. As an active little girl confined to a bed, this experience gave her time to think. Six-year-old Carol decided she wanted to do something extraordinary someday. She decided she would rescue a drowning swimmer.
Carol has never rescued a drowning swimmer, but the seed of desire to do something extraordinary was planted that day. And that seed has grown. Carol fulfilled her desire and has done many extraordinary things. One of those is summiting Mount Everest. Carol began to grow her talent of mountaineering when she was in her 50s. She went through a lot of trials all around the same time. Within 18 months, she lost her dream job teaching and doing research at the University of Utah, she and her boyfriend split up, her sister became seriously ill, and her mother passed away. These losses took a toll on Carol. Her gut hurt all the time, she could not sleep, she lost a lot of weight and became worried that something was wrong with her. When the doctors said that all the tests for diseases were negative, Carol realized that it was the stress that was making her sick. She recognized that she needed to find a way to manage her stress better through anger management, yoga, and meditation.
Being unemployed, single, and with a bit of money from her late mother’s estate, Carol saw an opportunity to learn about high altitude mountaineering, something she had been interested in since high school. She learned skills and received training from a mountain guide company. She was the oldest person in the group and the only woman, yet she tolerated thin air and intense cold better than men half her age. At age 50, Carol finally found something at which she excelled.
Carol says that she is her best self in the mountains. In the valleys, she is shy, anxious and socially awkward. In the mountains she feels strong, confident, and peaceful. She fell in love with mountaineering, and 10 years later she found herself climbing Mount Everest. Talk about resilience! She overcame tremendous odds by climbing Mount Everest at 61 years old. Carol explained that while climbing to the summit, each step was a struggle. She almost turned back, but she didn’t. She made it to the summit. However, the biggest struggle was coming down the mountain. Due to high altitude, Carol went temporarily blind. She had to climb down the highest mountain in the world without her eyesight. She fell with nearly every step, which would sometimes lead to an injury including a dislocated right shoulder. With each fall, she wanted to lie there and give up. She was in pain, thirsty, hungry, cold, and fatigued. “This is impossible,” she would think. Then Carol would remember that Erik Weihenmeyer had recently become the first blind mountaineer to summit Everest and survive the descent. “You are not allowed to give up,” Carol would tell herself. “Erik did it, it’s not impossible. Get up and fight for another step!” To avoid being overwhelmed with fear, she remembered the words of one of her guides, “Don’t think about the summit, just think about what you need to do in the next five minutes, the next hour, and where you need to be at the end of the day. The summit then takes care of itself.” When Carol reached the highest camp, she was so thankful to have summited and to have made it that far down the mountain. Before night fall, her sight returned. She was not permanently blind and had a better chance of surviving the rest of the descent. She became filled with even more gratitude!
Carol shared one last story with me of a more recent experience of needing resilience. One of the most trying times in her life happened just over three years ago. Carol has spent a lot of time riding her bike and would often ride to work or to run errands. She always made sure to stay safe and follow all traffic laws. On April 11, 2017, Carol was riding her bike in the morning in downtown Salt Lake. She came upon an intersection, waited for the green light, looked both ways for clear traffic, and then started to cross the street. Suddenly, she heard loud revving of an engine then a big crash! Blood flew from her face as her head hit the ground and her forehead split open. She then heard the car speed away. She had been hit. They never caught the attacker.
Luckily she had no serious bleeding in her brain and no broken bones, but she did have a concussion, her ankles were incredibly swollen and injured, 20 stitches had to be placed in her face, and she developed a giant black eye. But Carol said the worst effect of this event was her PTSD (Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder). She was angry, frightened, and confused why this happened to her. She could not understand why she, a law-biding citizen, was attacked for no reason at all. This experience has taught her that sometimes we don’t have as much control over our lives as we think we do. But we can reduce risks by abiding the law and doing the right thing.
I was amazed by Carol’s stories of resilience! From 6 years old to retirement, Carol has learned resilience to keep her going in this life. I told her how great an example she is, and she humbly said that everyone has stories of resilience in their lives. It takes resilience to keep going! To survive! Carol explained that maybe not everyone has such extravagant stories of resilience as she does, but each and every one of us are resilient in our own way. Carol described how there are a lot of quiet heroes at Summit Vista. We each have our own mountains to climb. I learned from Carol that if we take life one step at a time, we can make it to the summit and back!