By: Libby Palermo, Wellfit Girls 2015

I was so excited! I was five months away from fulfilling one of my biggest dreams. I was also five months away from conquering some of my greatest fears. I met with my group for the first time in January of 2015. The group consisted of eight, eager, high school girls and three, experienced, adult leaders. We were known as the Wellfit Girls and we were determined to live up to our name. The mission of Wellfit Girls is to inspire, challenge and empower teen girls to climb high in all areas of life through transformational leadership programs. This is what we were about to do. We were about to hike the Lares Trek in Peru to Machu Picchu, one of the Seven Wonders of the World. This trip would be the adventure that changed my world.

I was always afraid to leave my family and go away by myself. I also was ready to move on from the stresses that my ADD caused in high school and move on to a fresh start in college. The Wellfit Girls experience helped start this process. The group met two times a week for five months to prepare for the journey.

On Tuesdays we would meet to start preparing for all of the physical challenges we would face while climbing the mountain. We did cardio exercises with elevation training masks to prepare us for the change in altitude we were about to experience. The training was intense and left us breathless at first.  As the weeks went on, the struggle became less, and we began to feel like this climb might actually be possible. The physical workouts increased in length and intensity each week, enabling our bodies to develop the strength that was needed.

On Thursdays The Wellfit Girls and our leaders met to develop a plan to ensure that our minds were in the same condition as our bodies. This took just as much time and energy and was as big of a challenge as the physical side. We started the weeks off by setting our one year, five year, and ten year goals for ourselves. These goals were in the areas of nutrition, mental health, and physical well being. One week a nutritionist helped us understand food composition and how it affected our bodies. She explained how what we put into our bodies helped control our mental health. Another week an expert in goal setting taught us how to implement realistic goals in our day to day life. We studied all areas of personal growth to ensure that we were mentally ready for the challenge of the climb.

During these Thursday meetings, we also worked on fundraising and public speaking. The trip cost $5,000.00. Our job was to raise most of it through fundraisers such as personal training the “Wellfit Girls” way and taking part in discussions with audiences after viewing the movie, Warrior One. Warrior One is a documentary showing the action leading up to one of the Wellfit Girls’ journey, as well as the journey itself. Learning to speak publicly is an important part of the Wellfit Girls training. We started this process by learning methods that  would help to increase our confidence and enable us to have the courage to speak in front of others. After that, we practiced this skill in front of one another, then finally broadened our audience to outsiders. This was a fantastic experience.

The Wellfit Girls continued to do these activities for five months until it was time to embark on the climb. The day finally came and our group of girls and leaders took a bus to the Miami International Airport. From there, we flew to Peru. After the long trip, went to the house we would call home for the next five days. This house was not fancy. It was winter in Peru at that time and there was no heat. It was the coldest any of us had ever been. During these five days we painted a school in a poor, little town called Ticapata. After completing the job at the school, we took a bus to the place that we would start our climb.

Prior to beginning the climb, we packed up all of our belongings and the food and water that we needed.  This was loaded on to donkeys that would travel up the mountains before us.   We were in the best mental and physical shape that we had ever been in, and this would help us with the 21 mile climb in which we were about to embark. We were as ready as we would ever be.  I secretly hoped that this journey would help to change my life.

The climb consisted of three nights and four days of only hiking, sleeping, and eating. The terrain was rough, the weather was cold, and the altitude was high…15,682 feet!  At the beginning of the climb, our leader told us to pick up a rock and keep it with us at all times.  We had no idea why we did this, but she checked every few hours to make sure our rock was where it belonged.  The morning before we reached the Summit we had a meeting.  Our leader asked us to think about something in our lives that we wanted to let go; something in our lives that we wanted to get rid of  for good.  I knew exactly what I wanted to lose and was ready to reach the top!

A few hours later, we reached the Summit!  We conquered the climb!  To say that the level of emotion amongst us was high is an understatement, and does not do our situation proper justice.  Everything that we had worked so tirelessly and passionately for over the past five months had paid off. The tears flowed rapidly. We had never felt more successful for ourselves and for each other than at this moment in time. This precise moment in time would stay sketched in our minds for our entire lifetime.  Then, our leader asked us to take the rocks that we had been holding onto so tightly and for so long out of our pockets.

We obeyed immediately. However, we were puzzled as to what the simple, ordinary rock that we had been holding onto for the whole journey had to do with the climb and the emotions that we were feeling at that very moment. To our surprise, our leader asked us to think of the things that we wanted to let go of.  We all took a few minutes and came up with our list.  Then, she told us to throw our rock over the edge, along with our insecurities and fears.  This was the moment I had been waiting for.  This was what the Wellfit Girls had worked so hard and so long for.  This is what changed our lives forever.

The climb itself was a journey up a high mountain with harsh terrain and unfavorable weather.  But the climb also represented the personal growth and development in myself as I navigated through the last five months with the Wellfit Girls.  When I threw the rock over the cliff, I also threw my old feelings and emotions along with it.  My fears were gone, and I knew that my wish would come true.  My troubles in high school would soon be behind me, and the new and improved me could start a whole new life in college.  The climb and the Wellfit Girls had forever changed my world!