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Kate Septynski Booth’s Success Story



On Feb. 22, 2020, I was four days into my ascent of Mount Kilimanjaro in Tanzania, Africa, the tallest free-standing mountain in the world, listening to the guide preview the next day’s portion of the climb. Barranco Wall, a section of the wall nicknamed the “kissing rock,” is an outcrop where climbers flatten their face to the rock wall to sidestep on a narrow ledge with a precipitous drop-off behind.

This was the section I’d feared most since committing to summit the dormant volcano a year earlier. Our guide offered an easier, alternate route for those who didn’t have the courage. Every rational cell in my being urged me to take the alternate route. But was my ego going to let me choose easy?

As a 64-year-old nurse practitioner, mother, and grandmother, I’m careful and consider risks, but I have never ­allowed fear to circumvent my spirit of adventure. I have finished six marathons and a half-Ironman triathlon. I know how to mentally get through a challenge.

This felt different. My fear of heights had never factored into my running or triathlons.

The following day, I fell in line behind the leader as we climbed up the side of the Barranco Wall. While I had summoned my courage, I still carried my doubts on whether or not to cross this dreaded passage or take the easier route. I gave my pack to another guide because I feared the weight would pull me over the ledge. That’s when I questioned why I was even doing this.

Following My Why

What kept me climbing was my work with H2O for Life, an organization my good friend Patty Hall started in 2007. Its purpose is to activate U.S. youth to help solve the global water crisis by raising awareness and funds to implement water sanitation and hygiene education programs for schools. Our partner NGOs (or nongovernmental organizations) leverage these funds to build simple wells or water catchment systems, sanitary toilets, and hand-washing stations at schools in need around the world.

When the project is completed, the teachers and students trade pictures and letters with those in the United States. This is the part I love — the student-to-student connections.

I’ve been a volunteer with H2O for Life for 10 years and board chair since 2018. The idea to climb Mount Kilimanjaro came to me while I was traveling to Uganda in 2019 as part of Vision, a student-led global community-building program at the University of St. Thomas in St. Paul, Minn., where I work as a part-time nurse practitioner in the student health center.

The students and I were moved by the many challenges faced by the NGOs we visited in remote areas of the country. One of our leaders shared how he had climbed Kilimanjaro to raise funds for an NGO, and an idea was born.

Climbing Kilimanjaro seemed like an exciting, challenging, and meaningful opportunity to raise funds for H2O for Life. I started looking into it right away, and I found out how daunting this adventure would be. In addition to my fear of heights, I was frightened by the risk of high-altitude sickness, which can affect the fittest of people.

Even though Kilimanjaro is considered one of the easiest of the Seven Summits (the highest peaks on the seven continents) and doesn’t require technical skill, I worried that my body couldn’t withstand the challenge.

Overcoming Setbacks

I ran two marathons in my 20s, and four after turning 50, completing my sixth marathon for my 60th birthday. At 58, I completed a half-Ironman — all while living with early-onset degenerative-disc disease in my back and recovering from cervical-spine surgery in 2015.

So here I was going into this challenge with a bad neck and back, carrying a heavy pack, and sleeping on the ground in a tent. This weighed on me, but I committed to make the climb and started fundraising.

Friends and family from all walks of my life sent donations. I quickly raised over $12,000 — more than double my goal. I now had almost 100 people counting on me to get to the top.

In September 2019, a few of my climbing partners and I started working with personal trainers at Life Time in White Bear Lake, Minn. Our trainers researched strength-specific workouts and challenges on the indoor stairclimber. We found the hilliest locations in our area to hike with backpacks weighing 15 to 20 pounds, and continued to cross-train with cycling, swimming, and yoga.

I had to develop a mental picture of success. I’d used positive self-talk and mantras to get through marathons and triathlons in the past. Mentally training myself to go the distance and overcome the voices in my head telling me to stop was just as important as physical training.

Being Fierce

Right before I boarded the plane for Tanzania, my husband, John, gave me a bracelet that said “Be Fierce.” I wore it every day, and it became the mantra I repeated as I stepped hand over foot along the short but interminable switchbacks of the Barranco Wall.

Throughout the climb, whenever I felt overwhelmed, the guides were there to help. On the wall I got to a point when I could not reach or step far enough to grab the hand of the lead guide, Felix. Another guide, Johnny, positioned himself between us over the abyss. He grabbed my waist and swept me sideways to safety.

Once on the other side, they let me know I had just passed Kissing Rock — 365 days of worry was over. I sat down and cried. As it turned out, the guides had lied; there was no alternate route. It was the best lie ever told, and my mantra was true: I am fierce.

Two days later, on Feb. 24, we made the final ascent. Wind whipped through our tents, and sleet fell as we set off at midnight. All I could see was the light from the headlamp hitting the feet in front of me. The short, steep switchbacks eventually flattened out into a snowfield, and the sun began to shine below me.

The air was thin; I couldn’t have picked up the pace, but I wasn’t gasping for air. A couple of my companions threw up. Another was disoriented. Another needed a push.

Then we came over a mound and saw our finish line. We reached the summit. I felt as if I were looking down at Earth from outer space.

The awe I felt from the view was only elevated by the achievement. As I looked out at how high I had climbed, the accomplishment included the measure of how many lives would be changed with clean water.

My quest for new physical challenges will continue, as will my work for H2O for Life. I’ll try to top these fundraising efforts — I just won’t go higher than 19,341 feet!

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Health & Fitness

7 Immune-Boosting Foods – Experience Life



Looking to build your immune system? Start by eating immunity-boosting foods like turmeric, sauerkraut, and medicinal mushrooms.

Healthy, balanced immune function is your best defense against any illness. One of the keys to bolstering your immune system? Nutrition.

“Diet is all-important,” says preventive-medicine specialist David Katz, MD. “You’re building white blood cells, enzymes, and antibodies every day, and the food you eat is literally the source of your construction materials.”

A single meal can alter how immune cells respond to provocation, and the effects accumulate over hours, days, and weeks, he explains. “You can do a complete 180 and optimize a badly broken immune system in as little as weeks by improving your diet, so it’s a very immediate return on investment.”

Foods that dampen the immune system include highly processed or fried foods, those high in added sugar, and nonorganic foods grown with glyphosate, the chief ingredient in Roundup, a common herbicide that has been linked to cancer.

On the flip side, foods rich in polyphenols — beneficial plant compounds found in many vegetables, fruits, and legumes — support immune function. Integrative practitioner Robert Rountree, MD notes that the Mediterranean diet (plenty of colorful vegetables, nuts, and olive oil; moderate amounts of protein; and a little red wine with dinner) provides a good general template for immune-supportive eating.

Some immune system–balancing superstars to focus on:

  1. Green tea is rich in polyphenols, including potent antioxidants called catechins that have antimicrobial properties and may help protect against influenza. It also contains quercetin, a flavonoid that Rountree calls a “time-honored immune-supportive agent.”
  2. Berries are a potent source of immune-supporting flavonoids. “When you eat berries, most of these pigment molecules go to the colon, where bacteria break them down into smaller molecules that escape and circulate in the body, exerting antiviral effects,” says David Nieman, DrPH, FACSM, an exercise immunologist at North Carolina’s Appalachian State University.
  3. Turmeric gets its deep orange-yellow from curcumin, a compound that helps balance the immune system. It has a modulating effect on T cells, B cells, macrophages, and other immune cells, and can also enhance antibody response.
  4. Garlic contains sulfuric compounds with a range of antimicrobial effects, such as inhibiting the biofilm formation of bacteria. It also has natural antiviral properties and can help reduce hypertension, one of the leading risk factors for COVID-19. (For more on garlic, see “Garlic”.)
  5. Citrus fruits such as grapefruit, kiwi, and lemon deliver abundant ­vitamin C — one of the most important nutrients for the immune system, aiding in the formation of white blood cells. (For more on this essential ­nutrient, visit “What You Need to Know About Vitamin C”.)
  6. Sauerkraut and other fermented foods contain lactic-acid bacteria, which produce compounds in the gut that spur the immune system into action. And cabbage itself is another excellent source of vitamin C.
  7. Medicinal mushrooms are rich in beta-glucans, an immunomodulator that activates macrophages, natural killer cells, dendritic cells, and neutrophils. “Mushrooms like shiitake, oyster, and maitake have been shown to prime immune cells in published studies,” says Rountree. He recommends both eating shiitake mushrooms and taking a mushroom extract to support the immune system.

This originally appeared as “Eat Well” in “6 Ways to Boost Your Immune System” in the January/February 2021 issue of Experience Life.

Mo Perry
is an Experience Life contributing editor.

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