|Joseph C. Maroon, M.D. outside of|
Pitt's Cathedral of Learning.
Between 70 triathlons and eight Ironman triathlons, the man
has covered far more than 3,000 race miles by swimming, biking and running the
equivalent of coast to coast America. . . and countless more training miles.
But 3.66 miles straight up Africa’s Mount Kilimanjaro?
Leave it to Joseph C. Maroon, M.D.
, to utilize this newfound attempt at, well, upward mobility to
strengthen his knowledge base as both a man of medicine and science.
Dr. Maroon is serving as the medical director for a group
that includes 10 people with disabilities and almost a dozen others climbing
Kilimanjaro, one of the world’s tallest peaks and noted as the globe’s highest free-standing
mountain. The ascent begins today in Tanzania and is scheduled to require eight
days, primarily for the climbing party to acclimate to the changing
temperatures (90 to -20 degrees) and 19,341-foot altitude – which causes shortness
of breath, headaches and nausea known as acute mountain, or altitude, sickness.
mountain I’ve climbed is Mount Washington,” joked Dr. Maroon, UPMC
neurosurgeon, professor and vice chairman of the Department of Neurological Surgery at
the University of
Pittsburgh School of Medicine, and longtime team neurosurgeon to the Pittsburgh
Steelers. “To do it with a group of amputees and people with
disabilities is certainly worthwhile. It’s never been done before with this
kind of group.
“It’s not a
technical climb, but I’m apprehensive,” he added of the walking route from the
tropical bottom to the iced-over Uhuru Peak atop this volcanic formation. As
for his fitness, he just finished the famed Hawaii Ironman last fall, so that
isn’t much of a problem. “I’ve been climbing the 42 floors of the Cathedral of
Learning steps every other day, up and down, up and down, to try to get as
acclimated as I can. And still operate. Let’s just say I have a good ‘altitude’
by the way, rises barely one-fifth of a mile – Kilimanjaro towers about 20
heights, Dr. Maroon plans to study the effects of nitric oxide on this group of
mountain climbers. Tablets will go under a climber’s tongue, and then he’ll
monitor their blood pressure and oxygen saturation, not to mention see if medication
reduces the altitude sickness that regularly afflicts those who ascend
Kilimanjaro – quickly or, as with this group, gradually over seven days.
organizer is Rajesh Durbal, a triple
amputee who went from IT worker to motivational leader, author and athlete.
Durbal put together a four-city, 34-day African adventure – with the
Kilimanjaro climb in between Cape Town and Johannesburg visits - so those with disabilities not only can show their capabilities, but attempt to
send their message throughout the continent.
between Dr. Maroon and Durbal goes back to the Hawaii Ironman three years ago.
“I got to mile
130,” Dr. Maroon explained of the final leg of the 2.4-mile swim, 112-mile bike
race and 26.2-mile marathon of this 140.6-mile triathlon, “and I quit. Couldn’t
do it. It’s pitch black, in the lava fields of Kona. By the time I’m out there,
it’s 9 o’clock at night – and you start at 7 in the morning.
“I hear a
‘click-click, click-click.’ Then a hand reaches out and touches my shoulder.
And a voice says, ‘Hey, you can’t quit. Follow me.’ “ Just then a car passed
them, and its headlights illuminated Durbal’s carbon-fiber prosthetic legs and
his right arm, all three limbs amputated in childhood surgeries due to birth
complications. Dr. Maroon finished that race, and the two remain close. He
invited Durbal to speak to the Steelers on their way to Super Bowl XLV.
Durbal became the first triple-amputee to finish the Ironman, no group of
people with disabilities or limb loss has been previously known to climb
Kilimanjaro. So when Durbal called Pittsburgh a few months ago to ask his
friend to serve as medical director for this unprecedented climb,
it didn’t take long to assent. Now comes the ascent.
Dr. Maroon left Pittsburgh on Tuesday, flying to Addis Ababa, Ethiopia, and then to Tanzania – where the
group gathered Wednesday. They are scheduled to begin their climb today and
return sometime between Feb. 27-28.
“The theme of
the trek is ‘One’s Attitude determines one’s Altitude,’ ” Dr. Maroon said.
Labels: Joseph C. Maroon, neurosurgery