Mount Everest climber credits teamwork

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When Hampton High School alumnus Kevin Cherilla talks about being a team player, he's talking about a matter of life and death. Mr. Cherilla was part of the base camp team that enabled Erik Weinhenmayer to become the first blind person to climb Mount Everest. Last year, Mr. Cherilla reached the top himself.

"There is one thing that I learned from Erik and that is teamwork," Mr. Cherilla told students at Hampton Middle School. "The only way that I was able to achieve my goal [to climb Mount Everest] was thanks to teamwork."

Mr. Cherilla, who graduated from Hampton High School in 1987, is a physical education teacher and coach in Phoenix. He returned to his old school district in March to talk to students and show slides and video clips of his adventure.

In 2001, Mr. Cherilla was the base camp manager for Mr. Weinhenmayer's record-breaking climb of Mount Everest.

"We had Erik in our expedition and, at the time, the oldest man, who was 64, attempting to climb Mount Everest. We were laughed at, and some people said we were a circus. Well, we made it and broke five world records, four that still stand," he told the students as he displayed an issue of Time magazine with Mr. Weinhenmayer on the cover.

Mr. Cherilla was in a group of five when he climbed Mount Everest last year. The group included people from four countries plus Sherpas from Nepal.

"They didn't know a lot of English, so we had to learn to trust and respect each other using other methods than language," he said.

Mr. Cherilla spent 63 days on the expedition, braving extreme conditions, including temperatures that dropped to minus 51 degrees one night.

"Plus, we didn't take showers for 47 days. We had to make a lot of sacrifices and that is one of the things that I teach: In order to be successful, there is a certain amount of sacrifice involved," he said.

Mr. Cherilla held up an oxygen tank that climbers have to take with them. "These weigh 9 pounds each, and we had to carry them. It took 8,000 pounds of supplies and gear to make [the climb]."

His gear included about 55 pounds of food, including beef jerky, Reese's peanut butter cups and Sour Patch Kids candy. He also carried a Terrible Towel. "I am a real Steelers fan, so I had to take it," he said as a slide showing the towel prompted wild applause from the youngsters.

Eighth-grader Molly Luther got to try on his down suit, which looked like a sleeping bag with arms and legs.

"We had to cover everything. In those temperatures, skin freezes in 20 seconds," Mr. Cherilla said."Everyone always asks how we go to the bathroom," he said as he turned her around. "Well, we just unzip this and drop the flap."

Will Swain, a seventh-grader, asked, "What number person were you to make the summit?"

Mr. Cherilla answered, "I don't know exactly because the numbers for 2007 aren't posted yet, but I had a friend who made it in 2001 and he was about the twelve-hundreth. In 2007, that number has doubled, so a lot more people are making the summit than ever before."

Mr. Cherilla left his wife and two children to pursue the climb. One slide showed his children, Adam and Lindsey, second- and third-graders, back in Phoenix.

His parents live in the Ingomar area, so he tries to come back at least once a year to visit.

Throughout his hour-long presentation, Mr. Cherilla, who has taught for 17 years, praised his teachers from Hampton.

He credited Elizabeth Boyd, his third-grade teacher at Wyland Elementary School who is now retired, with telling him about Mount Everest and sparking his interest.

"Thank your teachers," he told the youngsters, adding that a teacher can be "a great inspiration for you."

Kathleen Ganster is a freelance writer.


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