How hiking saved one woman’s life

Photo courtesy of Jessica Zaneis.
Photo courtesy of Jessica Zaneis

Sometimes it takes a serious health scare to realize your body’s capabilities, and no one knows this better than Jessica Zaneis of the blog Chronic Climber Chick. A little over a year ago, she rushed to the emergency room with intense abdominal pain. Three hours later, she was faced with the possibility of an extreme surgical procedure to resection her colon. She begged her doctors to hold off surgery for the night—fighting like hell while in a morphine fog—and five days later was released from the hospital, operation avoided. Now, she’s making it her mission to stay healthy and push her body to the limit—she recently took on the Seven Summits challenge by climbing seven mountains in one day—all while encouraging others to follow in her footsteps.

 

What went through your head when the doctors said you needed surgery?

I never, ever—not for one second—allowed the thought to enter my mind that it would happen. I refused to accept that as a possible answer. I’m a fighter, and I knew if I was given the night I would stay out of the operating room. I fought the hardest fight of my life over the next five days and was released from the hospital still intact. I was very fortunate I reacted well to the antibiotics. From there, they continued to talk to me about resectioning it once I healed. I needed to recover and start my [health] research, and one and a half years later I’m still 100 percent intact.

 

That fight led you to move some major mountains in the past year. What are some of your proudest accomplishments?

I’m making up for lost time in a big way, and I feel like I’ve lived a lifetime in the last year. My proudest moment so far was completing the Seven Summit challenge in Phoenix. I climbed seven mountains in one day—23 miles and 5,409 feet climbed. I had bagged over 100 summits the year prior but had never done that mileage and gain in one day. Another one was my recent trip to the Grand Canyon. I did the South Kaibab to Bright Angle Loop in one day. I have done a tremendous amount of healing both physically and mentally by climbing mountains.

 

You’re living proof that diet and exercise are major healers. How have you spread the word through your blog?

I initially started it to organize the massive amounts of photos of my hikes, but I had so many people sending me emails and texts asking me what I had done—telling me how healthy I looked—and wanted to know everything down to the finest of details. I love to write, but I never thought anyone would read it. The amount of response I got and the readers I have gained is insane. I wrote a testimonial as a therapeutic exercise and sent it to Robb Wolf, who wrote the book “The Paleo Solution.” I forgot all about this, and one morning I was drinking my coffee and an email came through from his site. I started reading [the testimonial], and then it hit me: It was me! I started crying when I read it and I’m not a crier. I had a tremendous amount of encouragement, shares, forwards, and visits to my blog from it. I share so much of myself; I really put almost all of me out there. My blog is coming from the perspective of a real, regular person that people can relate to.

 

Jessica (far right) hiking in the Grand Canyon. Photo courtesy of Jessica Zaneis.
Jessica (far right) hiking in the Grand Canyon. Photo courtesy of Jessica Zaneis

What does your training plan look like?

I consider hiking the “dessert,” the reward for all the training I do. This is what my average week looks like: abs every day and 15 minutes of yoga every night before bed. On Monday morning, a 4-mile recovery hike with 1,300 feet of incline gained. In the evening, I go to the gym and focus on arms. Tuesday morning is leg day. I do a tremendous amount of heavy-weighted squats, lunges, kickbacks, and extensions. In the afternoon, I'll do a lighter hike with a 1,000-foot gain. Wednesday morning, I do another 4-mile hike and a weighted-back routine. Thursday is just hiking—generally 8 miles with 2,600 feet of gain as the goal. Friday I rest and do some restorative yoga, and Saturdays I love to go box. Sundays are my big hike days. I generally cover anywhere from 12 to 15 miles and try to get in a minimum of 3,000 feet of gain. It's definitely taken years to ramp up to this activity level.

 

What’s your advice to anyone who doesn’t feel his or her best, either mentally or physically?

We have so much to struggle with. When you choose to spend your time focusing on something, be very selective about the time you spend and remember this: you cannot help anyone else until you first help yourself. Realize nothing happens overnight; there is no magic pill, no quick-fix. Truly feeling your best is a journey, not a destination, and you have to fight for what you want—you have to sweat, cry, struggle, suffer, and be afraid. All of these things are what make you feel alive. Stop looking for a way to live with a disease and instead start looking for a way to overcome it. That is where the magic happens.

 

Photo courtesy of Jessica Zaneis
Photo courtesy of Jessica Zaneis

Where’s your next adventure taking you?

My next major hike is six weeks from today and it’s possibly the biggest journey of my life so far. I’m traveling to Tanzania to climb Mount Kilimanjaro in Africa, which, at 19,341 feet, is the tallest freestanding mountain in the world. I’ll be volunteering my first few days there with a school that houses blind albino orphans in Moshi. The company I’m going with does a tremendous amount of work with the disabled; they get them out on adventures to take their minds off their disabilities. This is only the beginning, and I am in awe.

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