Running on "The Peak of Heaven"
As we follow Natasha Jarvis Burch and Ben Ratliff along their journey in Nepal, we would like you to get to know each of their remarkable stories. We also hope to share a bit of history of this remarkable place through which they will travel. Natasha and Ben have very different stories, and yet, there is a synchronicity in the trials they have known and the events that have lead them to Nepal. We tell their stories so that others may be inspired by what is possible and by their example of the maxim, "Never, never, never give up." No matter where you are on your fitness journey or in life, you can pick yourself up, stand tall, take off and soar.
Natasha is an RN/BSN, and works as a surgical nurse at the North Platte Surgery Center. She has 3 young children who are anxiously following their mom's pilgrimage on a homemade calendar marking her route. The first hurdle she had to jump before going to Nepal was the idea of leaving her children for 3 weeks. With supportive family and friends, they are wrapped in care and love, and their knowledge of the world is expanding. Their understanding of what one committed individual can accomplish is strengthened from sharing their mom with her dream. The Tibetan Buddhists honor Miyolangsangm, the "Protector Goddess" whom they believe resides on Mt. Everest. Tenzing Norgay, the first Sherpa to reach the summit of the world's highest mountain believed completely that Miyolansangm guided his journey to the top of the world. Mothers are the protectors of their families, and they serve to guide their children to their highest potential. This is what Natasha is doing for her children. Natasha's example will elevate the idea that there is nothing that cannot be accomplished when one stays fixed on a goal.
Helen Kubler-Ross once said, "The most beautiful people I've known are those who have know trials, have known struggles, have known loss, and have found their way out of the depths." This could have been written about Natasha. Natasha had an early struggle with alcohol. Her brother Cody describes this time for her as "a very dark place." With the help of friends, Natasha found her way to re-hab, a place she says "saved her life." Her struggles with alcohol reflected a sense of feeling adrift, without a strong sense of herself to serve as her compass. In rehab, she found more direction and a renewed energy for life, and a strong commitment to her two young sons. Natasha is the daughter of local running legend Chris Jarvis. Leaning on his example and his leadership, she learned that running wasn't just about getting some exercise. It was a way to find yourself, as well. Suddenly and without warning in the fall of 2010, Chris died of sudden cardiac arrest. Public servant, volunteer and elite competitor, Chris's death jarred the entire community and left an empty space in Natasha's life. Rather than return to the bottle, she used running and cycling as an outlet for healing. She did not lie down, but rather, rose up to honor him and his running legacy.
Within a short time after Chris's death, she found the love of her life, Devin Burch. Married in Hawaii, Devin and Natasha began life together with her boys. Soon to follow was the birth of their daughter. While their daughter was still an infant, Devin, an avid outdoorsman, fell into a canal while fishing and drown. A second loss like this might have broken someone else, but it led Natasha to the mountains, and it was in the mountains that she found her healing and comfort. She found there what mountaineers have always known, "Truly it may be said that the outside of a mountain is good for the inside of a person." It was not just the mountains that provided solace, it was the effort, the physical demands and the work of climbing them that helped her to heal. The Tibetan Buddhists believe that there is enlightenment in a long pilgrimage or journey. The divorce of her parents, addiction and multiple profound losses did not and could not defeat her. She is now in the Himalayan Mountains on a mission of physical achievement, challenge and attainment of self-awareness. Her life could have been so very different, but she chose to embrace life and its gifts despite the trials it can bring. She is an example that life is messy, complicated, and hard. Endurance athletics are messy, complicated and hard. They are a metaphor and a teacher, and she is a willing student. She is learning to "conquer herself."
Natasha has been struggling with the effects of the cold in the high mountains. As they climb higher and higher, she is working to adjust to the incredible demands of altitude on the human body. In a conversation this morning, however, she is showing no signs of Acute Mountain Sickness, and is being carefully monitored by her guide, Mingmar. Ben is adapting well to the increased demands as his Island Peak summit and Everest Marathon approach. The next leg of their journey yesterday took them to Chhukung, and a glorious look at the big peaks, including their goal mountain, Island Peak (Imja-Tse). They completed a 16,500 foot acclimatization hike. They slept in Chhunkung at 15, 500 feet. The team arose at 12:00 a.m. local time to eat and started their ascent at 1:00 a.m. local time. Their destination is Imja-Tse Base Camp at 16,000 feet. At Base Camp, they will see their goal. Island Peak is waiting to welcome them.