The Threat that Binds Mazama Volunteers: Inspiration

by Dan Schuster

The author on the summit of Mt. Kilimanjaro.
Photo: Godlisten Christosa
Ask any longtime supporters why they give heart and soul to the Mazamas and you’re likely to get different answers. Contrary to popular myth, we aren’t all climbing sport enthusiasts. Yet to say we all love the mountains or mountaineering may exclude rock climbing buffs who’d rather hang out at Smith, or hikers who love the woodlands. It’s difficult to identify a common thread binding us together because our passions sometimes drive us apart. While we each may have a different vision of what the Mazamas should be, one thing we all share is inspiration. Mazama volunteers have inspired us and in turn, we volunteer to inspire others.

For many of us, that inspiration started with our BCEP instructors, and I was no exception. My BCEP ‘88 instructor, Bo Nonn, is one of the unsung Mazama heroes. That’s not to say he didn’t receive all the awards that come from being a long-time climb leader, but he kept a low profile, focused instead on inspiring us to pass on the love of mountaineering. I followed his example through BCEP, ICS, and ASI for the 28 years since, and as a climb leader for the past 14. Over the years, I’ve given both personal time and money to the Mazamas and with so many other critical needs out there, you might ask, “Why the Mazamas?” It boils down to inspiration.

For example, you may have seen the movie “Meru,” and been inspired by the extremity of purpose and commitment that might seem absurd to some. Yet the adventure aspects of the movie inspire even non-climbers in a way that golf and baseball never can. The movie had particular significance to me because of my experience with another Mt. Meru, Kilimanjaro’s unassuming cousin. In 2007, I traveled to Tanzania to climb Mt. Kilimanjaro. My daughter accompanied me as far as Moshi, and while I was on the mountain, she volunteered her nursing skills at a local hospital. Afterwards, she shared her dismay on discovering how little of the hospital’s medical equipment was in working order. We later learned through a WHO report that up to 80% of East African medical equipment was nonfunctional. Inspired partly by Greg Mortensen’s school construction project for Afghan girls and partly by my BCEP instructor’s Peace Corps experiences in Botswana, I set about to remedy the equipment situation. It occurred to me that the many engineers who travel to Africa on safari and to climb Kili were part of the answer. “Voluntourism,” historically dominated by medical staff, was in dire need of technologists. After struggling to find a cooperative venue, I returned to Tanzania in January 2010 as an instructor at Arusha Technical College (ATC). Nestled in the shadow of Mt. Meru, ATC was created to fill the demand for qualified technical personnel in Tanzania. Since that first visit, I’ve spent 18 months in Arusha training future biomedical technicians to repair medical equipment and established a nonprofit corporation, Biomedical Engineering Technology Aid International (BETA Int’l), to support that endeavor. BETA Int’l has subsequently facilitated a biomedical engineering technology program at ATC by training faculty, providing modern test equipment and parts, and providing stipends for student internships at area hospitals. With a comprehensive training program in place, ATC now supplies electrical and biomedical engineering graduates to hospitals throughout Tanzania.

I’m not sure any of this would have come about if not for the volunteers that inspired me and the inspiration that comes from my own volunteering. Climbing taught me many valuable lessons including this from scree and soft-snow slogs: slide back a step for every two forward, keep going, and you eventually make the summit. You definitely need this kind of tenacity to deal with bureaucracies and governments in developing nations. And inspiration has opened doors to new opportunities. Now BETA is teaming with GE Foundation to address medical technology issues in all low-resource countries. Haiti is next, although it is more like climbing Mt. Everest. We’ve been slogging there since 2011, without yet reaching the first base camp.

For some of you this may not resonate (unless you climb Kilimanjaro and have need of hospitalization). For me, it justifies my “Curmudgeon Challenge” to raise funds for the MMC, and the countless hours I’ve put into Mazama training, climbs, and committees. My Mazama training was a prelude to a much bigger life mission—one that has become world-transforming. I understood that in 2003 when I teamed with Monty Smith to rescue a family on the Eiger’s neighboring peak; our oft-repeated leadership training saved five lives. So mountaineering will never be just a sport to me—the inspiration goes far deeper, and it is a fundamental test of character. Yes, I do love the mountains and any excuse to be in them—anywhere in the world. What inspires you may be different, but do keep our volunteer tradition alive within the Mazamas, and pass along the inspiration to others. Inspiration is the most pervasive impact we can have in this world, and our only legacy.

Author’s note: If you are bound for Kilimanjaro, interested in voluntourism opportunities, and have a medical or engineering background, see BETA International’s website at www.bmet-aid.com.
Author’s bio: Dan Schuster is a Mazama climb leader (2001) and has taught climbing since 1989. A retired Caltech-educated engineer, he founded Biomedical Engineering Technology Aid International (www.bmet-aid.com), a 501(c)(3) non-profit, and is also a volunteer science museum educator in lasers and robotics at OMSI.


How a Team of Volunteers Changed My Life

The author on the summit of Mt. Hood, July 7, 2012.
Photo: Steve Deardorff
by Kristie Perry

It started with seven little words.

“Take Beecept, Kreestee. You vill love eeT.”

So proclaimed Ania Wiktorowicz, a relentlessly cheerful co-worker and one of the many awesome ambassadors for mountaineering that make the Mazamas such a terrific organization.

I wasn’t so sure about this BCEP thing. At that point in my life, I was about 18 months away from my last cigarette and about four years away from my last bottle of red wine. I had, at least, quit committing slow-motion suicide. But I was, at most, a recreational hiker and car camper with a head full of “I can’t.” Should I really do this BCEP thing?

I was quite convinced the answer was No. But every Monday morning, there was Ania, egging me on. “Take Beecept, Kreestee. You vill love eeT.”

So with high hopes and even higher anxiety, I enrolled in BCEP.
It was a life-changing experience.

There came a moment during the eight-week class when I fully realized that the massive undertaking that is BCEP is run entirely by volunteers. A lot of them: volunteers who are recent college grads, moms and dads, and grandmothers and grandfathers; volunteers with full time jobs as social workers, accountants, physicians, lawyers, engineers, and sales reps; volunteers who seem to have been born wearing crampons; and volunteers who only recently learned how to tie a butterfly knot.

That light bulb moment about BCEP came at the conclusion of Jodie Adams’ presentation on strength training exercises for budding mountaineers. Jodie is a Mazama member and physical therapist. She’d just had a baby. It was still very tiny. And yet Jodie hauled herself down to Jackson Middle School on a rainy Tuesday night in March 2013 to talk to a bunch of wannabe mountaineers about the proper body position for deep squats.

I felt tremendous gratitude for Jodie’s willingness to share her expertise with us. She did it for free. She did it with cheer. She did it even though as a new mother she was extraordinarily sleep deprived.
I experienced many moments like that during BCEP. There was Colleen Sinsky, who rescued me from a meltdown during knot-tying practice. There was Sue Giordano, who coaxed me up my first climb of the MMC rock wall. There was Kyle Heddy, who hugged me after I stemmed up the chimney at Horsethief, and Brian Anderson who made sure I did my BARK check correctly before rappelling back down. This chorus of “You got this, Kristie!” was conducted by BCEP Team 7 Leader Kevin Clark, who patiently instructed me—again—on how to plunge step after accepting me on his Mt. McLoughlin climb.

Volunteers. Every single one of them. Teaching me the skills of mountaineering. Doing it for free. Doing it because they wanted to. Doing it with a magical mix of patience and encouragement. Amazing.

Every single one of those volunteers played an important part in evicting that rat’s nest of “I can’t” that had been so thoroughly ensconced in my head for so long.

So I did the only thing I was really qualified to do for the Mazamas right after taking BCEP: I joined the Publications Committee. I got to geek out with other grammar nerds on the finer points of the Oxford comma. I got to apply my administrative and organizational skills to some process improvement projects. Eventually, I got to be chair of the committee.

And with every article I proofed and every meeting agenda I put together, I got to say thank you. Thank you to each and every Mazama volunteer that has come before me and made this organization what it is today: a welcoming place where even timid, middle-aged chicks with a head full of “I can’t” can learn to glissade with the best of them.

About the author: Kristie Perry is a three-year Mazama member and Director of Donor Relations at Central City Concern.