She’s done marathons, triathlons and trained for the half-Ironman, and now, Old Westbury resident Rebecca Amitai is setting her sights on climbing Mt. Kilimanjaro. But unlike her previous athletic endeavors, this trek takes on a special purpose, as she sets out to raise more than $10,000 to benefit multiple myeloma (MM) research.
In February, Amitai heads to Tanzania to take part in Moving Mountains for Multiple Myeloma, an effort that raises awareness and funds for MM research. For Amitai, climbing Kilimanjaro is more than just an opportunity to cross something off her bucket list. The mission has a personal attachment, as one of Amitai’s closest friends suffers from MM, a cancer formed by malignant plasma cells that causes the weakening of bones. Originally, Amitai and her friend Anne, who was in remission after being diagnosed with MM about two years ago, were supposed to do the climb together. However, Anne’s doctor hesitated in giving her clearance, and a few weeks ago she had a recurrence of MM.
Amitai is passionate about raising money to help fund the crucial, lifesaving research that has helped her friend and so many others. All proceeds raised from the climb will go towards the Multiple Myeloma Research Foundation (MMRF).
“MMRF has been instrumental in funding a lot of research. Thanks to MMRF, drugs have been expedited in coming to the market. There’s a lot more ammunition in the doctor’s cache that they can draw upon,” Amitai said. “Years ago, the life expectancy of an MM patient was a lot shorter. Now, it’s gotten higher.”
Amitai, who threw herself into triathlons and ultra-marathons after retiring from her 30-year Wall Street career, said this climb is much more purposeful than her previous athletic undertakings.
“Those things have all been for fun,” Amitai said of her previous exploits. “Kilimanjaro is the most scalable of the seven summits, so I had originally viewed it as a fun, beautiful thing to do. As MMRF ended up being the trip I picked, rather than a typical travel company, it’s meant I’ve gotten really involved in MMRF. This is an exercise to build awareness of MM and do an effective job of fundraising. It’s taken a much more serious aspect for me, as opposed to a wild and crazy vacation.”
The inevitable injuries that come while training or the trek up the mountain also take a different perspective. Amitai joins 15 other people on the journey, a team comprised of caregivers, researchers, friends, medical professionals, as well as cancer patients. Climbing in such company puts minor aches and pains in another category.
“Many of these people have much bigger issues than you do,” Amitai said. “You should be able to figure out this hip pain or sciatica. It’s trivial in comparison to what all these people are going through.”
Some of the difficulty in climbing Kilimanjaro is that it’s uphill, and while the walk isn’t fast, the thin air makes it feel more difficult. Much of Amitai’s training has been getting her body used to back-to-back climbing, so there are plenty of days on the Stairmaster and the treadmill’s highest incline. Building endurance is key, as she’ll be doing six or seven days of climbing.
While they started as strangers, Amitai and her teammates had the chance to meet in July during a practice climb in Denver. The trip brought them all closer together and Amitai said she knows reuniting with them in Tanzania, standing at the starting gates of the mountain, will be a very emotional experience.
“I get very choked up thinking about starting the climb,” said Amitai. “Starting the journey, and meeting [my teammates] in Tanzania will be very emotional. I feel very connected to all these people. We only spent two days together but I feel like we would do anything for each other.”
Find out more about Amitai’s trip and donate to MMRF at www.movingmountainsformultiplemyeloma.com/kilimanjaro17/team/rebecca-amitai.