“No matter how hard or difficult the situation, keep going.”
When Kamal Kaur, an international mountaineer, was given this piece of advice, she made it the unshakable truth of her life.
Whether it is climbing the dreaded Himalayan peaks or battling depression, the 36-year-old faces each challenge with utmost grace, and looks forward to the next goal.
So far, Kamal has scaled five out seven global summits, from Mount Kilimanjaro in Africa, Aconcagua in South America, Mount Meru in Africa, Elbrus in Russia, Denali in North America and even Mount Everest.
Other feathers in her cap include scaling ten high altitude mountains across the world, from Machu Picchu and Mount Misti in South America, Cho Oyu in Tibet to Ama Dablam in Nepal.
“I started this journey of finding solace in adventure, in my early 20’s. I understand that not everyone’s ultimate goal is to climb a mountain or to push themselves to the brink with extreme physical activities, but there are lots of ways to attain what you desire. All you need is dedication, and sincerity,” she tells The Better India.
When Kamal is not on an expedition, she volunteers with NGOs working for women’s rights. She is also a certified yoga teacher.
Battling Mental Illness
Kamal was hardly 11 when she first experienced severe mood swings and a drastic change in behaviour. This was followed by episodes of feeling frightened and distressed.
At the time, she was living in England with her family, and while it was a close-knit unit, and she had friends, she was not able to cope with the extreme emotions, and the world felt like a strange place.
“I went through multiple stages of mental illness. I even went to a psychotherapist after which life seemed to fall back on track,” she says.
But it was temporary.
Eating disorders, anxiety and anger issues found their way back in Kamal’s life.
Just when she thought things couldn’t get any worse, she lost her mother, who was her pillar and a constant source of strength.
“My mother taught me resilience and compassion that brought me where I am today. Her teachings are what gave me the strength to bounce back and work on my health. Losing her broke me completely,” says Kamal.
Turning Towards Fitness
Two years after the tragic incident, Kamal turned towards physical fitness, which would go on to play a significant role in her life. Exercise became a coping mechanism; it helped her beat stress and negative emotions.
This even helped her stay focused on her studies and career. She completed her studies in fashion designing from Leicester College and started her career with multiple jobs.
Little did Kamal know that one day, all the cardio workouts, weight-lifting and running would also help her to sustain her passion.
Climbing New Heights
In 2010, encouraged by her loved ones, Kamal decided to take the ‘Three Peaks 24 hour’ challenge to raise funds for a UK-based charity.
“The challenge was to cover the three highest peaks in England in 24 hours. I had no professional training, and yet there I was along with other mountaineers ready to summit in freezing temperatures. It was challenging, but I did manage to accomplish the near-impossible feat.”
Soon after this, Kamal climbed her very first major summit, and there has been no looking back since.
“My first climb was Mount Kilimanjaro in 2010. The experience was one of the most exhilarating and liberating, to say the least, it opened up a whole new world for me and my freedom. The ascending process was only a fun activity, but by the time I completed it, I found my true calling.”
Kamal abides by two mantras for fulfilling her dreams— consistent workouts and unwavering faith in herself.
“Before every climb, I hike with a heavy backpack, undergo strength and conditioning training and practice meditation, swimming and CrossFit for five hours every day,” she says.
Even though Kamal has set unthinkable goals by any standard, she insists that life is still the same, and she still has to deal with mental illness.
“I still have good days and bad. But I keep going and would ask anyone reading this to do the same. Keep going, and believe in yourself and all that you are. Remember that you are bigger than any obstacle,” she signs off.
(Edited by Gayatri Mishra)