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Nepalese Strong

Nepalese Strong

It’s September 2016 and I’m trekking towards Everest Base Camp with my Nepalese guide, and now good friend, Gyan. Our 16 day journey started with a flight from Kathmandu, the capital of Nepal, a bustling, crowded city, to what is the world’s most dangerous airport at Lukla. You only get one shot at landing at the Tenzing Hillary airport. A safe landing is traditionally greeted with spontaneous cheers and applause from passengers glad to have survived the flight. Lukla is 2,860 metres above sea level, so at the starting point of my trek I am already 600 metres above Australia’s highest peak Mount Kosciuszko.

The journey to Everest Base Camp involves a vertical ascent of some 2.5 kilometres, a physical challenge not just in terms of the terrain, but also the added danger of hiking at high altitude. The higher you climb, the greater the risk of succumbing to altitude sickness, with symptoms ranging from headaches and nausea through to a potentially fatal pulmonary or cerebral edema. At Everest Base Camp there is 50% less oxygen than at sea level, and altitude sickness is an ever-present danger.

Despite this I loved the constant physical challenge of the trek and would sometimes find myself so immersed in the journey that I would be outpacing Gyan. It was while trekking up another steep climb that he remarked to me, out of the blue: “You are Nepalese strong.”

It was an incredible compliment from Gyan and it made me feel quite emotional. Not only because it was awesome for my physical strength to be compared to a Nepali trekking at high altitude, but also because it made me reflect on the journey I had been on to get here, since a personal crisis upended my world in 2015.

This journey had led me to a different place, not just physically, but emotionally too.

Early in 2015, my marriage of more than 20 years broke down. I was suffering from severe depression with rock bottom self-esteem – I was an emotional and physical wreck. The path I thought my life was on no longer existed and I was not coping at all. My immediate reaction was to isolate myself, retreating as often as I could to the false security of my bed. I was exhausted but I couldn’t sleep. I felt worthless. I was stuck.

But as the days and weeks went by, I began to realise that unless I did something about my situation, nothing would change. I had a choice: I could give up or I could take action. I chose the latter, and I’m so glad I did.

My first action was to immerse myself in just about every self-help book, blog, post, podcast and YouTube video ever published in an effort to find a solution. A common theme that emerged was the benefit of exercise and the positive difference it could make to your life.

I learnt that exercise stimulates endorphins, the feel-good hormones that help to reduce stress and improve your mood, and discovered that studies have shown that regular exercise can be just as effective as anti-depressants in treating depression. With regular exercise, your risks of contracting heart disease, cancer or diabetes greatly reduce. As your fitness levels increase, your self-confidence grows, as you build a healthier and more resilient body.

Initially, exercise was a welcome distraction from my situation. I started out with no set plan other than just wanting to feel better. I began by jogging short distances a couple of times a week, and sometimes I would also cycle around the streets of the suburb where I lived. It was irregular but it was a start. I quickly began to find that during and after exercise I felt a little better.

But the real change came when I took advantage of a Groupon offer to join a lunchtime “boot camp” run by a local personal trainer at the botanical gardens in the Brisbane CBD. Exercising with others is great because you meet new people, make new friends, and feel part of a community. With regular sessions each week, I also had a timetable that I could commit to. Attending the boot camp sessions quickly became the highlight of my day and it marked the end of my self-imposed isolation.

This inspired me to start one-on-one sessions with a personal trainer and led me to compete in events like Spartan and Tough Mudder. As each week went by, my endurance levels increased and I became physically stronger. The fitter I became, the more my self-confidence grew. I was taking responsibility for my own well being. I was happy.

To celebrate my positive transformation, and to draw a line in the sand between my old and new life, I wanted an experience that was exciting and different. Laying on a beach somewhere just didn’t cut it for me, I wanted to challenge myself physically and mentally, preferably in a natural setting. Trekking to Everest Base Camp ticked all the boxes, and what an experience it was.

As I sat in front of the prayer flags that adorn Everest Base Camp I felt an incredible sense of contentment and achievement. But I also felt unbelievably inspired to set the bar higher for myself and to seek out new challenges. Making it to Base Camp didn’t mark the end of my journey – it marked the beginning.

So if you’re struggling with something in your life like I was, my advice is to choose action over inaction. Use exercise to take control of your own well-being.

Challenge yourself to start being active today. Try anything, try everything, find what you enjoy and commit to it. You won’t regret it.

Exercise won’t necessarily be the answer to all your problems, but I guarantee you’ll feel healthier, fitter and stronger, be more resilient, and have greater self-confidence.

And who knows where it could lead you?

Maybe to Nepal?

Maybe you too can become “Nepalese strong”?

Gyan Tamang is a guide with Trek Climb Ski Nepal

Dan Doncaster

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Dan has a passion for physical fitness and for challenging himself and others to step outside their comfort zone. He hopes that others can take something positive from what he has learned through his life experiences.

 Dan lives in Brisbane and is a proud dad of two children.

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Dan Doncaster

Dan has a passion for physical fitness and for challenging himself and others to step outside their comfort zone. He hopes that others can take something positive from what he has learned through his ...

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