DOBBS FERRY, N.Y. – Kurt Kannemeyer will do anything to help the children at St. Christopher’s in Dobbs Ferry. That includes climbing Mount Kilimanjaro in Tanzania, the highest mountain in Africa.
“A mountain signifies the impossible,’’ said Kannemeyer, the director of development at the school for teens with emotional, behavioral and learning disabilities. “It’s a structure that can’t be moved. For many of the kids that come through here, they are facing mountains every day. I’m climbing for every student with special needs, whatever their situation is.”
Kannemeyer’s climb begins Monday and will take 7-10 days. Mount Kilimanjaro is the highest free-standing mountain in the world, and rises 19,341 feet above sea level. Kannemeyer is seeking to raise $25,000 for St. Christopher’s with his climb. Donations can be made online.
He started to plan the trip nearly two years ago. He took five kids with autism to South Africa in 2009, and he said it was “life changing.”
“It still life changing,’’ he said. “For them and for me. At first it was frowned upon, that we couldn’t take kids with autism on excursions and be ambassadors. That was kind of the impetus. We started talking with some other people, and we said let’s do this. People know I’m not a hiker, but we wanted to do something that will have people talking about our kids. They told me that if there’s anyone that can do this, it’s me.”
Kannemeyer will hike with three people from Connecticut. He said he devised his own training program for the climb by training elliptical machines nearly every day for the past six months.
“I’m going to carry a group picture of the kids that went with me in 2009,’’ Kannemeyer said. “That same picture fueled my workout routine when I was almost going to give up. A couple of weeks ago I was more than an hour on this elliptical and I was oblivious to the people around me. I had my headphones in and I was screaming ‘It’s for the kids! It’s for the kids!’ This lady was just staring at me. I said I’ll explain it you later. It was that moment of accomplishment, that fuel of seeing the faces of those kids. That’s what it’s all about.”
The first day of the climb will last about 4 ½ hours, Kannemeyer said, before the hikers rest take a break for “British Tea” with some of the locals. “I told people that’s the thing I’m most looking forward to, and they said there’s something seriously wrong with me,’’ Kannemeyer said.
The hike gets progressively harder. Kannemeyer’s group will climb 8-10 hours a day on succeeding days before resting. Only about 41 percent of the hikers up Kilimanjaro make it to Uhuru Peak, the highest summit at Kilimanjaro. “People have told me you ain’t seen nothing yet until you get there,’’ Kannemeyer said. “I’ll get there if I have to crawl.”
Kannemeyer has some apprehension because he does not know how his body will be affected by the altitude. But he is determined to reach the top.
“No one can say how your body is going to react,’’ Kannemeyer said. “That’s my only concern. The fact that I became a voice for our kids, that’s what it’s all about. That’s what excites me and that’s what fuels me.”