Navratilova ‘just couldn’t breathe’ on Kilimanjaro
December 12, 2010
NAIROBI, Kenya – Martina Navratilova was released from the hospital Sunday, three days after her fluid-filled lungs forced her to abandon her attempt to climb Africa’s highest mountain.
The 54-year-old tennis great, who formerly owned a home in Aspen, was carried down Mount Kilimanjaro on a stretcher Thursday night and Friday morning. Navratilova said she knew by Wednesday she wouldn’t be able to reach the summit of the 19,340-foot mountain in Tanzania.
“I didn’t feel badly, I just couldn’t breathe. I couldn’t get a full breath of air,” Navratilova said shortly her release from the Nairobi hospital, where she was treated for high-altitude pulmonary edema. “Nothing hurt, and for an athlete that’s weird. Nothing hurt but I (couldn’t) go on.”
Navratilova, who had a bout with breast cancer this year, reached nearly 14,800 feet when a doctor with 27-person climbing team told her she needed to descend. The winner of 18 Grand Slam singles titles said quitting is not in her vocabulary, but “when the doctor said you’re going down, you’re going down.”
Navratilova kept a diary during her four-day climb. Her last entry read:
“‘I’ve never been so utterly exhausted. Everything is taking monumental effort, going to the bathroom, getting dressed, setting up tent. I don’t want to ever …’ I can’t read it. I stopped writing because I was crying, because I was so disappointed at how I felt,” Navratilova said.
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She wrote the entry Thursday afternoon, a few hours before descending.
Two days before beginning the climb, Navratilova told The Associated Press she was in good enough shape to get to the top but she didn’t know if “the altitude will get me. That’s something you can’t predict.”
Once down from the mountain, Navratilova’s appetite returned. She said she hadn’t been hungry for four days, though at first she thought it may have been an intestinal issue after eating bad fish Sunday.
Navratilova was climbing Kilimanjaro to raise money and awareness for the Laureus Sport for Good Foundation. Kate Brewer, a Laureus representative who was on the climb, said the mountain guides told the group the weather – torrential rain, mist, cold – was the worst they had seen.
It started raining two hours after the climb began, and it was cold from the beginning, Navratilova said. By the third day it was snowing and sleeting. The binoculars Navratilova packed were never used because visibility at times was only a few yards. Only 18 of the 27 people in the group made it to the top.
“Nobody had fun. It was just survival, just pure survival,” she said. “Trying to stay dry, trying to stay warm, trying to eat enough, drink enough, to survive the day. The conditions were just so unpleasant.”
Navratilova said she’s been in great health since mid-August and her cancer this year had nothing to do with her medical woes.
So far she has helped raise $80,000, and she noted that failing to reach the top may have generated more publicity than if she had made it to the summit.
“I always said the only failure is when you fail to try,” she said. “I guess the other failure is not giving your best effort. I did both: I tried and gave my best effort.”