Center Grove’s Sneha Dave overcomes health barriers to climb Mt. Kilimanjaro, with her sights set on reaching all Seven Summits
Sneha Dave had always been fascinated by magazine articles about mountaineering. Yet, there was a time, due to a chronic health condition, when walking up a couple flights of stairs was near impossible.
That didn’t stop her dream of climbing the Seven Summits, the highest mountain in each of the seven continents. The end of 2017, she made that first step, reaching the peak of Mt. Kilimanjaro, at 19,341 feet, in Tanzania, Africa.
Dave, a sophomore at Indiana University, has spent her time advocating for youth with chronic illnesses since her time at Center Grove High School. She, herself, was diagnosed with the ulcerative colitis, a chronic inflammatory bowel disease, at age 6. The condition flared up in middle school, having her spend five years receiving partial schooling while she was treated at Riley Hospital for Children.
Her junior year of high school, she organized a Leadership Day for Teens with Chronic health conditions to help other students make the transition back to school. She created and still runs Crohn’s & Colitis Teen Times, now Crohn’s and Colitis Young Adults Network, a newsletter offering support and encouragement to other youth coping with the condition.
Once she made it to IU, Dave began advocating on a larger scale. She works with the advisory board for a pharmaceutical company, Pfizer, through which she’s had opportunities to travel across the United States to speak, helping them bridge the patient-pharmaceutical gap. She’s advocated with the United Nations in summits which she speaks about the third Sustainable Development Goal, which states “ensuring healthy lives and promoting the well-being for all at all ages is essential to sustainable development,” according to un.org.
Personally, Dave enjoys hiking with her family and spending time outdoors. This past December, they took on the largest trip they’d done together, with a goal to climb Mt. Kilimanjaro.
“It’s definitely the hardest climb we’ve done,” she said. “Usually when we’ve done altitude, it’s not 19,000 feet. Fifteen is the highest we’d done.”
The family, consisting of Sneha, her dad, mom and older sister, left America on Dec. 19 and began the climb on Dec. 21. All except for Dave’s mother summitted on Dec. 25.
“It is definitely very mentally challenging,” Dave said. “I had to train a lot more than my dad and the rest of my family. I had underwent a lot this past year, which made my bones a lot weaker. The whole process of being able to do constant uphill with little oxygen was new to me.”
It wasn’t easy, and Dave even passed out at one point while she was brushing her teeth due to dehydration, but she pushed her way to the peak. They took it a little easier that day.
“I feel great,” she said. “The top was anti-climatic. You have such little oxygen you just want to get down. The wind is so hard that if you stay for too long you’ll get a rash on your face. It was amazing when I got down and the next day was amazing, too. The actual summit was very uncomfortable.”
Dave said she wouldn’t have been able to accomplish this dream without the help and support of her family.
“My parents are into all that type of stuff and they really don’t want me to (be held back),” she said. “They want me to do whatever I want to do. Having my parents think like that has helped be able to do cool things like climbing Mt. Kilimanjaro.”
She’s not done yet. She has her sights set on Mt. Elbrus in Russia next. Then Mt. Aconcagua in Argentina – working her way through until she’s pursued all seven.
“The biggest thing I’ve taken away is I definitely want to climb more mountains,” Dave said. “I just really enjoyed it. The biggest thing I gained after doing this, is a huge confidence boost because being able to do something that is difficult for someone with a chronic condition. (Although,) I really want to detach Kilimanjaro from me having ulcerative colitis because it’s such a personal thing for me. I think anyone can do it.”
Dave also shared about her experience in a blog post with Riley, rileykids.org/stories/blog/everything-is-possible-a.html#.WmIFB66nGpo.