Kara Richardson Whitely has written a bold and riveting memoir that tells about her struggle with food, and her surmounting obstacles as she prepares to walk up Mount Kilimanjaro, Africa's highest peak, while raising money for an AIDS cause for children in Africa. I had the pleasure of meeting Kara at a recent Mediabistro event in New York City, which she attended with her husband Chris, in order to promote her book. Kara credits Mediabistro and its workshops with helping to write this daunting memoir.
Kara, a journalist who lives in New Jersey, has struggled with weight issues all her life. Her descriptions of reaching 350 pounds, then losing weight as she works out and prepares for her trek abroad are uncompromisingly honest and refreshing. She doesn't claim to offer diet prescriptions, but she does share what worked for her. "It took Weight Watchers here, Oprah's Boot Camp there, South Beach bars from time to time, a 4 p.m. ritual of eating Luna Bars, and working out (a lot) to get rid of one hundred pounds. I had to find out what worked for me. Sometimes nothing did."
As if losing lots of weight and working out weren't challenges enough, Kara climbs mountains and determines to walk up Kilimanjaro. Her steadfast preparation for that walk is admirable. She and Chris scale down and up the Grand Canyon and take on Vermont's Mount Mansfield and Camel Hump; but climbing isn't all that's involved. The two must take a slew of shots to ward off diseases and buy prescriptions that may save their lives. Even finding the right clothes to fit her body for that walk is a challenge. Kara, clearly willing to do whatever it takes, even takes a last minute trip to do altitude training in Telluride, Colorado.
The rewards of her efforts are immediate. After raising $12,000 for Global Alliance for Africa, Kara and Chris have the opportunity to see what sorts of help their contribution will give to families in Africa who, for example, must count on rain for their drinking water. When the two ask what is the best way to help, the director informs them, "Tell people about Africa."
By the time, Kara, Chris and friends finally embark on their adventure, the reader knows Kara is as ready as she can be, given the unforeseen. Kara finds she is both resilient and strong. When others encounter altitude sickness, for example, she is fine. When the going gets hard, she reminds herself of why she is making the trek to the top, to help AIDS orphans in Africa. "The meditation of steps, breath and the songs from our porters," carry the team up the mountain. The trekkers battle diseases like diarrhea and the trials of insomnia, and the struggle intensifies as they reach the third summit, Jamaica Rocks, at 5,500 meters above sea level. Slowly, slowly, the group reaches Gilman's Point, at 5,686 meters. Uhuru Peak, the actual summit, is 1,000 meters higher, and when Kara and Chris finally get there, the reader, knowing full well what it took, revels in the many levels of exhilaration Kara experiences having fulfilled her quest.
Fat Woman on the Mountain is an engaging and inspiring read. Far more than about the challenge of losing weight, it's about overcoming external and internal obstacles to fulfill an important and rewarding dream. As a how-to in this department, it's one of a kind, a gem.
For more information about Kara 's adventures or her book, see http://www.fatwomanonthemountain.com/.