Ambitious Young Girl Reaches New Heights

Nothing could stop this determined child from exceeding expectations, even after her severe health setback

Eight-year-old Roxy Getter literally reached new heights during her summer break recently by becoming the youngest female to climb more than 19,000 feet to summit Mt. Kilimanjaro in Tanzania — Africa’s most popular mountain.

“The trip had been planned for three years,” Sarah Getter, the girl’s mom, told LifeZette. “We based it around our son turning 10 and the age we believed he could make it up the mountain.”

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Roxy Getter was in good company, in other words. Her parents, including her father, Bobby Getter, who is an orthopedic spine surgeon; her brother, Ben; a team of guides and porters; and two of her dad’s colleagues — about 30 people in total — also made the climb.

What makes this story especially resonant, though, is how much young Roxy Getter has had to overcome in her life so far. At just a year old, she underwent open heart surgery after being diagnosed with atrial septal defect.

“We found out Roxy had a hole in her heart,” recalled Sarah Getter, noting that doctors had initially hoped to wait until Roxy turned two before operating.

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“She was not thriving,” said the devoted mom. “Her weight and height were dropping below the 10th percentile, so we needed to take action quickly.” Nine months after the surgery, Roxy Getter had reached the 70th percentile in weight and close to that in height. And she’s been spunky and full of energy ever since, according to her mom.

Ben Getter, Roxy’s brother, meanwhile, has also had heart issues of his own — he sees a cardiologist for regular checkups, as does his sister.

Overcoming the past is what makes the present even more remarkable for the Getter family, who reside in Florida. “This experience gave them confidence in their ability to conquer things that may not seem possible,” said Sarah Getter about her children.

That’s not to say the adventure was apprehension-free. “As a mother, I was very concerned about the climb for them. We took every precaution we could think of,” she said.

For starters, Sarah Getter and her husband enlisted the services of a dependable company named Trekking Hero. “The guides were wonderful and encouraging every step of the way.”

In addition, there were two physicians on the climb, including Bobby Getter and his colleague and mentor Edward Dohring, M.D., also an orthopedic spine surgeon and the inspiration behind the climb.

“Dr. Dohring climbed [Mt.] Kilimanjaro with his son more than 10 years ago. He suggested it would be something fun to do,” said Sarah Getter. “We love adventure and felt confident going with someone who had experienced it before.”

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The Getter family also had to come to terms with never having camped overnight before. “We didn’t have a choice. We wanted to climb the mountain and that was the only way to reach the top.”

In preparation for the entire trip, Sarah Getter and her children trained for three months: They ran stadium stairs, went bike riding, and took long walks together, all while her husband worked long hours. The Getter family and their crew began the climb in early July — and spent the next three weeks ascending more than 19,000 feet.

“The first day was the hardest,” recalled young Roxy. “We had to go up and down, up and down a lot.”

The daily routine while climbing Mt. Kilimanjaro — where altitude sickness can wreak havoc on climbers in the form of dizziness vomiting and headaches — consisted of hiking a grueling four to eight hours a day with temperatures fluctuating some 30 degrees between daybreak and nightfall.

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The monotonous menu also left lots to be desired: porridge and eggs for breakfast, soup and protein for lunch. “The first three days it tasted good, but after that it was quite difficult to eat,” said Sarah Getter. “The altitude is also known to take away your appetite, so I think that was a major factor.”

“Even if I don’t think I can do something, I should just try,” said Roxy Getter.

Still — the pros from the climb far outweighed the cons. “What surprised me the most was our kids leading the way every single day and staying positive throughout it all. We gained a new level of respect for them on this trip.”

To be sure, Roxy Getter is also a changed young lady today. “It made me realize that even if I don’t think I can do something, I should just try,” she told LifeZette.

The Climb Mount Kilimanjaro website, to date, lists Roxy Getter as the mountain’s youngest female climber.

“It’s really cool,” she said. “I didn’t think I could make it to the top, but I just kept going and going — finally I reached it.”

Her story is inspirational not just for kids returning to school this year and looking for new challenges, new role models, new stories to learn of and learn from — but for adults of all ages as well.

Elizabeth M. Economou writes about higher education, health, and real estate. She is a former adjunct professor and CNBC staff business writer.

(photo credit, article image: Chris 73, Wikimedia)

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