Overcome Your Mountain

My Heart Condition

I was training for my next climb, Mount Everest, in Spring 2021. As the expedition date neared, I got an echocardiogram done in December 2020 to make sure I had no health issues. What the doctors discovered was a heart condition called a Patent Foramen Ovale (PFO)—a hole in the heart that significantly raises the risk of stroke and pulmonary edema at high altitudes. I was given two choices: quit climbing or surgically repair the hole. Without any hesitation, I jumped on it. I didn’t even think of the potential risk in regards to the surgery option, noting that doctors also found I had an elongated eustachian valve, which made the procedure more complicated. I was just so hyper-focused on continuing my passions. With surgery out of the way, I was able to refocus on training as I pivoted to attempting the Everest summit in Spring 2022.

Because of this personal setback I wanted to create a page that highlights the internal and external mountains that we are continuously climbing in everyday life. Below are a few personal stories from some pretty incredible people.

Note: You can source more content from the authors by clicking on their photos.

How Saudi Arabian Entrepreneur, Trainer, Athlete and beautiful spirit Nelly Attar, navigates up her biggest mountain in life.

Mark: What is something that really challenged your mind, body, and soul in your life? It doesn’t necessarily need to be from one of your sports challenges.

Nelly: Grief. Losing my father in 2020. This is something that has challenged me to the very core and continues to challenge me. It is harder than any climb, any race, or any other experience in my life. I think there is nothing like grief that really strips you away from everything. It makes you feel like you are reborn and you are super vulnerable. Reborn in the sense that everything you once knew, you now question. The strength that you thought you had feels different. Life is entirely different and now you have to move forward without that person who was always in your life.

Mark: Can you explain the internal conflict that was going on inside of you as you tried/continue to navigate your way through this challenge?

Nelly: Trying to find meaning…trying to find meaning. I went from not being religious to being religious and finding peace and acceptance in religion. I was also trying to find meaning in it all. It is weird because I kept thinking I don’t want Dad’s passing to go in vain, I want to learn from this, I want to grow from this, I want to be a better person, for him for me. I feel like I am responsible now to take care of myself. He always believed in me, so even if I didn’t, now, I have this responsibility to believe in myself because of my father. So, I was trying to find meaning in everything, I was trying to understand life. I feel like my whole life perspective kind of shifted after his passing.

Mark: How did you ultimately overcome your greatest challenge?

Nelly: I didn’t overcome it; I’m still working through it. You can never overcome grief. I feel like you move through grief, and you move forward with that love. That love will never die and that love will always be with you. I’m trying to use that love to drive me to new places, drive me to do better, bigger things. Whenever I go through a little dip now, I just think I’ve been through the hardest period of my life, I could do this. Dad’s love will always be with me, he’s guiding me. That’s how I am trying to work through it, but you can never overcome grief.

Mark: Do you have any direct tips for those who are trying to overcome their personal mountain in life?

Nelly: My direct tip to people in overcoming their mountain is to really connect with themselves, find what works for them, see what works for them, and see what feels better for them. It is in your hands to be able to feel better, it is in your hands to move forward, you have that choice. Find what works for you and find what helps you. People will say what you should or shouldn’t do, but when it comes down to it, this is your life, this is your journey, this is your mountain. Find your way up that mountain and take that first step forward.

the descent on Mount Everest via the North Col by Indian mountaineer Parth Upadhyaya

While I was coming back down after summiting Everest, just one hour later, I saw a man die in front of me, on the second step. It just completely shook me. I continued walking because if I didn’t, I would die as well. Within 30 minutes, my health started to deteriorate to a point where I couldn’t stand up. My energy was drained and I didn’t have the power in my legs to move. I realized if I am not able to walk on my own two feet, I will die. I waited for my Sherpa who was behind me. I started to accept the outcome of death and how I was going to shed my body on this summit ridge.

While I was sitting there, a single thought came into my mind. Whatever you want to call it, God, the Universe, if you are listening to me, just give me 30 seconds with my loved ones. With my family. I felt so stupid for having wasted 24 years of my life on something which I could have said to them in 30 seconds. But time, once gone, is gone. Everything that I thought was important in my life started to fade away, including having summited Mount Everest, a 9-year-long dream. That joy vanished in the face of death. Only what is truly important remained, and that was being alive. All through my life, I completely ignored the phenomenon of life. And while I was about to die, I realized how important it is, to just be alive. My Sherpa realized that it was my oxygen cylinder that was running empty. Throughout the night prior, I had checked the cylinder multiple times to see how much oxygen was remaining so I’m not sure what happened. Regardless, my Sherpa and I were able to change out the cylinder and I recovered.

In the face of death, I got a very clear insight into what is important and what is not. Being alive is important. Your goals and ambitions are important to a certain extent, but all that we consider important fades away in the face of death. Being alive is all that matters.

the decsent of Mount Everest via the South Col by Nepalese Mountaineer Prakash Raj Pandey

On the mountain, you are only a real hero when you come back safely. After successfully summiting Mount Everest, the journey back down turned fatal. My guide and I decided to bypass Camp 4 and headed straight to Camp 3 for safety reasons. Due to darkness and fatigue, we could not reach Camp 3 and were compelled to stay at Camp 4 which is located in the “Death Zone.” This is an area above 8000 meters, where oxygen is 34% the concentration it is on the ground below. My guide was concerned about the oxygen cylinders running empty, and the lack of food and drinkable water. As I sat there, a single thought crept into my mind, one should not let oneself die unless the heart stops. It was the best struggle of my life. A man should struggle to survive until they are finished. I forced myself to eat ice as water and persevered. This incident made me more confident and hopeful in life. It has taught me to be calm, disciplined, and motivated in uncomfortable situations.

the rescue of Lincoln Hall on Mount Everest by Dan Mazur

Heading toward the summit of Everest on the morning of May 26, 2006, sitting to our left, about two feet from a 10,000-foot drop was Lincoln Hall, evidently left for dead the night before. Not dead, not sleeping, but sitting cross-legged, in the process of changing his shirt. He had his down suit unzipped to the waist, his arms out of the sleeves, was wearing no hat, no gloves, no sunglasses, had no oxygen mask, regulator, ice axe, oxygen, no sleeping bag, no mattress, no food or water bottle. ‘I imagine you’re surprised to see me here,’ Hall said. Now, this was a moment of total disbelief for us all. Here was a gentleman, apparently lucid, who had spent the night without oxygen at 8600m, without proper equipment, barely clothed. My team and I abandoned our own summit dreams only 250 meters short of the summit and brought Lincoln Hall down, ALIVE.