A Roswell resident and Atlanta business owner will be leaving Roswell to scale the vastness of Mount Kilimanjaro in Tanzania this August as a way to raise money for the nonprofit BlazeSports.
Beacon Management Services's president Lisa Simmons says the idea popped in her head one afternoon, but this will not be her first time hiking for a cause. Last August, Simmons hiked the Grand Canyon rim to rim, totaling 25 miles.
"It got me really pumped up, just really excited about what I could do, my endurance, how far I could push it, how far I could go, how high I could go," Simmons said. "It really sort of expanded horizon for me because before that it was weekend hikes, little overnight hikes, which is great but it's not really that challenging and the Grand Canyon was also my bucket list, to do the rim to rim."
Despite the Grand Canyon being one of the Seven Wonders of the World, less than 1% of visitors attempt the 25 mile hike down the canyon, over the Colorado River and back up. Simmons become one of those hikers to successfully hike rim to trim and raised a total of $13,000 for BlazeSports.
"It just hit me one day that I should do a fundraiser, I should raise money for something," Simmons recalled. "I thought well, I could raise money for breast cancer because I had breast cancer before. I explored those different options and nothing really panned out. Then I was hiking one day and I thought, what if I hiked to raise money for somebody who can't walk or can't hike or who's disabled?"
BlazeSports America is the direct legacy nonprofit organization of the 1996 Atlanta Paralympic Games. For more than 20 years, BlazeSports America has created adaptive sport and recreation opportunities for individuals with physical disabilities in Georgia and throughout the country.
With headquarters in Norcross, the foundation serves more than a quarter of a million children, veterans, athletes and service providers with physical disabilities through programs, training and education initiatives and an extensive network. BlazeSports practices at Centennial High School in Roswell, and provides equipment and training for over 40 different athletic programs. After Simmons visited the headquarters and attended some practices, she says it was love at first sight.
“We are thrilled to have Lisa’s support and for her to raise awareness of our programs in such a fun way,” BlazeSports America interim executive director Mara Galic said. “At BlazeSports, we encourage athletes with all levels of abilities to achieve new heights, and Lisa’s efforts demonstrate this same philosophy.”
This year Simmons' hiking and fundraising goals are even bigger and more demanding. On the way home from the Grand Canyon, Simmons decided that she wanted to venture on another hike and raise more money.
"I don't know why but it just popped in my head — Mount Kilimanjaro," she said.
To announce her next trip, Simmons and Duane Morrow, an adaptive athlete and friend of Simmons, jumped from a plane 14,000 feet from the ground. However, next month Simmons will climb even higher.
Towering 5,895 meters (19,340 feet) over the Tanzanian plains, Mount Kilimanjaro is the highest mountain in Africa and the highest free standing mountain in the world. The mountain has seven routes hikers can take — Marangu, Machame, Rongai, Shira, Lemosho, Umbwe and Mweka. Because Machame is the most scenic route, the trail quickly became the most popular option. Machame usually lasts for six to seven days and is around 37 miles gate to gate. While Mount Kilimanjaro is no easy feat, it is not a technical, mountaineering hike like Mount Everest.
Simmons will leave for Mount Kilimanjaro Aug. 7 and will hike from Aug. 12 through Aug. 20 on the Machame route. While Simmons says she has been hiking for as long as she can remember, she is still taking steps to prepare for her next trek. She has been hiking between 12 to 14 miles every weekend and makes frequent trips to Stone Mountain.
"I find it really therapeutic, especially to get out Atlanta — just to get away from the traffic and the noise...to recharge and reset," Simmons said. "I find it very therapeutic to just go hiking."
For those interested in hiking, Simmons encourages people to just get outside.
"Do it," she says. "Start in Metro Atlanta. Get a pair of boots...find a trail and just go."
For this year's hike, Simmons' fundraising goal is $20,000. At the time of publishing, money donated so far is around $12,000. For those interested in supporting her fundraiser, visit https://www.blazesports.org/ways-to-give/LisaSimmons.