S.C. mom set to summit Mount Everest to raise $1 million for Hollings Cancer Center
Medical University of South Carolina
CHARLESTON — Blustery winds whip outside on this February morning as Cokie Berenyi works out in her bedroom.
Her treadmill is set on a 30-degree incline. But these winds are nothing compared with what she’ll be facing on Mount Everest. Wearing an oxygen mask to simulate a high-altitude environment of 13,000 feet, Berenyi stays focused on her task, occasionally switching to a sideways gait to train laterally.
Alpine climbing books sit on her bed, which is encased in a Hypoxico altitude tent. That’s so at night, she can simulate sleeping at 9,000 to 10,000 feet. This is what it takes to train for her upcoming Mount Everest summit. With her April 1 departure date rapidly approaching, Berenyi is ramping up her workouts.
A successful investment advisor and author, the alpine climber generally exudes confidence.
She already has summited four of the world’s highest mountains – Mount Elbrus in Russia, Aconcagua in Argentina, Kilimanjaro in Tanzania and last summer, the most demanding of her climbs, Denali in Alaska.
Today, though, she’s showing some nerves.
She knows what she needs to do to be prepared for the climb.
But she’s never gone this high, and the single mom is leaving behind friends and family, including her two daughters.
“And, how do you ‘be away’ from your family for two months? How do you train for that?” she says.
Still, she’s determined. Having climbed many other peaks, Berenyi set her sights on fulfilling a different aspiration this time, and it will be one of the biggest climbs of her life. With her local launch party scheduled for Sunday, March 22, from 3 to 5 p.m., at Bedaw Farm in Awendaw, she took a moment to reflect on why she wants to take on this challenge.
Her campaign, Everyday Everest, not only aims to raise $1 million for a new mobile unit for Hollings Cancer Center at the Medical University of South Carolina, it also targets raising awareness about cancer prevention.
Why is this campaign so important to you?
With all the hats we women wear, we figuratively climb mountains every day. Sometimes keeping my mammogram appointment is a summit in and of itself. Taking care of ourselves isn’t selfish.
It’s the greatest act of love we can give our families, our friends and even our neighbors and co-workers. It’s about giving life, not losing it. Above and beyond family and career, women need to take charge of their bodies – physically and preventatively.
I’m using this climb as a platform to fund a mobile health unit to make access to screenings easier and to remind women that every day, mothers, sisters, daughters and aunts ignore critical screenings. Every day a woman dies from a cancer that would have been treatable if caught earlier.
Are you afraid of doing this climb?
Yes, it’s scary. Sure, it is! Do people die climbing mountains? You bet.
But a heck of a lot more people die from cancer every day. I hope and pray I get up and down that mountain with no problems. But if something does go wrong, it will have gone wrong with me living a purpose-driven life. Living my truth.
Any of us could die any time from a car crash or a freak accident.
I’m not going to let the fear of what could happen stop me from doing something I love – something that could equally fulfill life for someone else by literally saving her life.
Why are you excited about your launch party?
I love the idea of having supporters at the farm to personally thank them, not only for their donated dollars, but for all the ways they’ve given to the Everyday Everest campaign. Time and energy are just as precious.
For those of us who do have accessible health care, let’s gather in gratitude for our good fortune while ensuring a new HCC mobile unit gets on the road; without it, underserved communities lose access to vital cancer preventative measures and early detection screenings.
How long will it take you to climb Mount Everest?
The process will take a couple of months. After my city tour in Kathmandu (Nepal) April 3, I fly to Lukla April 4 and begin the trek to base camp. I will stay there from April 15 to the 20th to acclimatize and review mountaineering techniques, such as ladder practice and fixed lines.
Then from April 21 to May 18, I will do a series of climbs and descents among camps 2, 3 and 4 to allow me to acclimatize. On May 19, I will summit and return to camp 4. On May 20, I will summit Lhotse and return to camp 2.
The goal is to descend to base camp May 21 and trek to Lukla between May 22 to 24. I arrive back in Kathmandu May 25 and leave for home May 26. There may be extra days added here in case of bad weather.
What special items will be in your backpack?
A solar charger, Garmin inReach for GPS transmission for my supporters so they can follow where I am on the mountain, Therm-a-Rest tent chair, dark chocolate, playlists from my girls to keep me close to them and Starbucks VIA packets.
How are you training?
I’m working out on an incline treadmill with an altitude mask, doing long bridge walks with a GO2 breathing device (which adds resistance to exhales to increase blood oxygen levels) and a 30-plus-pound vest, doing lots of squats, sled pushes combined with an elliptical workout, core training and mountain hiking.
One day every other week, I do a five-to-nine-hour trek with 30 pounds and a GO2 breathing device or altitude-training mask. Three to four days a week, I do 90 minutes on the treadmill at a 25- to 35 percent incline, simulating 13,000 feet with the use of a mask.
What are you most excited about?
Walking to base camp with Everyday Everest supporters, good friends and hopefully my children. I’m still working on that.
What are your Sherpa teams, and how does that work?
I’ve created teams of 10 people who have committed to reprioritizing their health screenings and overall wellness and will raise a minimum of $1,500 for the campaign. They also are helping to spread the word about the Everyday Everest pledge. I want to get women to take that – it encourages them to know their risks for cancer and to take action to get appropriate screenings. The best treatment is prevention.
Has doing this campaign changed you and if so, how?
I’m humbled by the task of fundraising and competing for eyeballs in social media.
Also, while I have considered myself philanthropic in the past, this campaign has truly raised the bar and brought with it amazing gifts from those who have supported the campaign.
Writing checks and giving is big. This campaign and the droves of helpers, team members, volunteers and financial supporters, from friends and family to long-lost acquaintances and fellow climbers, has truly highlighted for me the power of connection and how, deep at our core, we are all charitable and want so badly to give back.
What special encounters have you had because of it?
I’ve met busy women who are afraid of mammograms or feel they’re too busy to commit to getting screenings and gotten them to authentically commit when they hear me say that at stage zero, when a cancer is caught early, you have a 98 percent chance of survival.
What is the Everyday Everest pledge, and why is that so important to you as well?
I’m trying to reach 1 million women and get them to reprioritize their health by taking the health pledge and helping to raise $1 million for Hollings. In my consulting practice, I advise and coach busy entrepreneurs on financial success.
However, I can’t count on two hands how many clients I have had that have passed away from cancer or other stress-related health issues that could have been prevented had they prioritized their general health and wellness as much as their businesses or their finances.