Wednesday, February 17, 2010

Adventure and Inspiration

This memoir Learning to Breathe was recommended to me because it includes a climb to the top of Mount Kilimanjaro in celebration of the author's 40th birthday. I too am hoping to celebrate my birthday by a Kili climb in 2011. But for the author, the climb was her way of demonstrating her recovery from an horrific accident.

Wright is a photo journalist and in early 2000 she was in Laos working on a photographic book about children in developing countries. She was riding in an old bus up a narrow winding road when her bus was broadsided by a logging truck...and she was seated just at the point of impact! She was so convinced of her imminent death that she wrote a goodbye note to her brother and his children.

But obviously she survived - in spite of broken ribs, a collapsed lung filled with blood and fluid, a punctured diaphragm, a lacerated spleen, and a back, pelvis and coccyx that were also broken. Much of the immediate repair work was done without anesthesia. Wright attributes her survival in part to the breathing techniques that she had learned during several Buddhist retreats she had made in Nepal.

When she was well enough to travel, Wright returned to her home in San Francisco to begin the arduous process of learning to walk properly again. It was during this time, when one of her specialists told her that she would no longer be able to continue traveling and working as a photographer, that she issued her challenge: "I'm going to climb Mount Kilimanjaro for my fortieth birthday!" She had just over a year to prove the specialist wrong.

Alison Wright was and is a fearless adventurer. She entertains the reader with many of her pre-accident adventures. Having sustained and recovered from these injuries, she still takes risks that to me are unimaginable: scuba diving, a 709-foot bungee jump in South Africa, white water rafting on class five rapids in Uganda. I loved reading about them all. She has a mindset that is totally foreign to my own. Maybe I'll try to be more adventurous myself now. I look forward to searching out her photographic work.

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