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Collingwood widow's mission to climb Kilimanjaro for higher purpose

'Through the tears, the pain, and the darkness, Kilimanjaro is my proclamation that I am still here,' says Averil Shadd, who is training for the feat and hopes to raise $50,000 to support widows living in poverty

A Collingwood woman is gearing up for the adventure of a lifetime as she prepares to conquer Mount Kilimanjaro, Africa's highest peak. But Averil Shadd's mission goes beyond personal achievement – she's determined to make a difference in the lives of widows worldwide.

Shadd, a strong-willed widow herself and a mother of two, had her world turned upside down when her beloved husband tragically passed away five years ago, one ordinary morning in their home gym. 

"It was traumatic,” said Shadd. “In my heart, I knew immediately he was gone. You just know. But how do you tell your kids their dad is dead?”

Devastated and struggling to comprehend the sudden emptiness in her life, Shadd dug deep and found the inner strength to keep going, for herself and the sake of her two children, who were just teenagers at the time.

"There is this tension between being sad all the time and trying to encourage your kids to open up and figure out how to feel. I always thought we processed it, we were actively trying to work through grief, but I didn’t realize just how deep it was at the time,” she said. “You can’t deal with grief when you’re in survival mode."

Now, Shadd is ready to take on a new challenge: scaling Mount Kilimanjaro. The daunting climb represents more than just a personal test of endurance. For her, it’s an opportunity to bring hope and support to other widows facing their own uphill battles.

But her journey to get here was no easy feat. 

When her husband passed away, Shadd was balancing her role as a teacher and a parent, dividing their time between Collingwood and Ancaster, until one day her children sat her down. 

“My kids told me they needed me to be home when they left for school and when they got back,” said Shadd. “I wasn’t sure, but my kids needed me.”

So she quit her job teaching and put all her focus on her family. Five months later, COVID hit, and they made the decision to sell their house and move north full time. 

After moving to Collingwood, Shadd realized the importance of seeking help and guidance for herself as well. She started working with dedicated counsellors and trainers, prioritizing her health and well-being as well as her childrens’ as they navigated their own paths of healing. 

Slowly, as time passed, Shadd found herself drawn towards the field of fitness and well-being as a profession, fuelled largely by the impact it has had on her life as well as her background in teaching, coaching, and a personal passion for physical activity. 

Driven by a desire to make a positive impact on the community and with newfound time on her hands, she decided to pursue this new dream of becoming a personal trainer. She got to work, obtaining the necessary certifications and installing a gym in their new house. MTN Mama Fitness was born.

“When you tie in the coursework with all my years of teaching, coaching and being an athlete myself, it adds up to a pretty decent one-two punch as a trainer,” said Shadd. 

She started to build her business, but slowly and intentionally, always making sure she had room to continue on her own healing journey as well as her childrens’.

Then one day, Shadd stumbled upon information about International Widows Day. The stories she encountered left her shocked and deeply disturbed, highlighting the challenges widows face worldwide. 

Inspired by her own journey, Shadd thought that her upcoming milestone 50th birthday could be an opportunity to honour her late husband and hopefully make a difference in the lives of these other widows as well. So she made the decision to climb Mount Kilimanjaro, which to her, was the ultimate symbol of endurance and perseverance within reach. 

The idea initially seemed far-fetched for someone who had never been drawn to camping or travel, but the challenge resonated deeply within her. Shadd recognized summiting Kilimanjaro would push her physical and mental boundaries, just as she had been tested throughout her grief journey.

“Anytime I’d hear of someone doing Kilimanjaro I was not at all interested, and my husband used to laugh, saying ‘no, that isn’t your cup of tea,’” said Shadd.  

Nevertheless, three days later, she shared her plan with three close friends and committed herself to the climb, knowing that her journey could have the potential to help make other widows' lives better.

She planned it so that the 5,000-metre climb would take place during her 50th year of life and mark the fifth year since her husband had passed, setting a goal to raise $50,000 that would be donated to support 500 widows facing various hardships of their own around the world. 

It had a ring to it, she said, and she started gaining traction almost immediately. But then came the hard part: the climb itself. 

Recognizing the magnitude of her undertaking, Shadd embarked on a rigorous training regimen, enlisting the help of her friend and personal trainer, Lukas Burella from Primitive Patterns. Burella has been an instrumental figure in Shadd’s life, providing support and assistance throughout her journey of healing.

With her departure scheduled for September, Shadd is maximizing her outdoor training sessions throughout the summer. But as the departure date draws near, Shadd reflects on the immense difficulty that awaits her. 

Mount Kilimanjaro is known to test the limits of even the most seasoned climbers, with a staggering 40 per cent failing to reach the summit. She is very aware of the potential hardships and doubts she may encounter during the climb, but her unwavering commitment to her cause and the widows she hopes to empower drives her forward.

Shadd firmly believes that when someone believes in these resilient women and shows up for them, they rise to the occasion, displaying incredible strength and courage in the face of adversity.

“Women can do amazing things,” said Shadd. “They are strong and courageous. I have walked through this nightmare, and I am still standing. I am still learning and growing, and I want to help others do the same.” 

By overcoming her own personal tragedy and embracing the challenges ahead, she hopes to inspire others to find strength within themselves and embark on their own transformative journeys.

“Climbing Mt. Kilimanjaro will be my way of saying farewell to fear, of continuing to fight for those in need, of lifting my eyes to keep on climbing through this life and not give up. Through the tears, the pain, and the darkness, Kilimanjaro is my proclamation that I am still here,” she said. 

For more information or to donate, visit Kilimanjaro Climb 2023.

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Maddie Johnson

About the Author: Maddie Johnson

Maddie Johnson is an early career journalist working in financial, small business, adventure and lifestyle reporting. She studied Journalism at the University of King's College, and worked in Halifax, Malta and Costa Rica before settling in Collingwood
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