Veterans Day Blog: A Look Back on Kilimanjaro

By Jake Rath

Today marks Veterans Day, an important day to thank, support, and remember all the veterans that have sacrificed everything to protect what we love and hold dear.

Looking back on my climb with Marine Cpl. Kionte Storey, months after the metaphorical moon dust of Kilimanjaro has settled, the whole experience was surreal to say the least. There I was hopping on a plane to Africa, a completely new frontier for me, to meet up with Kionte—who I had only met once before. We set out together to climb to the highest point we had ever been, an experience that we both approached not knowing what to expect. And I wouldn’t have changed a thing about it.

After reflecting on the trip with Kionte, we both realized how big climbs like this can be analogous to many of the struggles faced by veterans. A quick explanation of our summit day may shed some light on this. It took 5 days of hiking more hours than sleeping to make it to base camp, and after getting a very light sleep, we were awoken close to 11pm to start the summit. Just after midnight we headed out on our long push ahead, headlights blaring into the cold dark night. After what felt like an endless battle with the mountain, hiking up the zig-zagging switchbacks, the sun finally broke past the peaks and we were greeted with one of the most beautiful sunrises I have seen. Although we had been gifted with the light, the struggle was not over, as we were still 2 hours from the highest point in Africa, not to mention the hike down after.

Often, veterans returning with either physical or mental scars after deployment face a similar struggle as they continue to overcome the hardships they have experienced. As Kionte has said, “You’re going to go through those hard times, sometimes you’re going to get to that point where you say I’m done, I don’t want to do it anymore.”  But after suffering for what feels like forever, something changes. Whether it is through the help of family, an organization like the Bob Woodruff Foundation, or through finding a new purpose like Kionte did as an athlete, you emerge into the light and feel its warm embrace. The battle isn’t over though, there are still obstacles to overcome and troubles to face, but you have a new light to keep you going. Kionte learned to not let his injury take control of his life; he created a new path for himself and has shown everyone that the only limitations out there are the ones you put on yourself.  Kionte said that “When you create things that inspire another person, that’s really all that matters.” And that is exactly what he is doing in the world. He lives as an inspiration for me and the countless others that he has impacted. So, get out there, climb a mountain, show everyone what you are capable of, and live to improve the lives of those around you, in the true veteran spirit.