Thomas Cheney, 71, on conquering his highest ever mountain at Mount Semeru

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An inspiration to all, our fellow UFIT Bootcamps extraordinaire Thomas Cheney proves that there are no limits. Despite being 71-years-old, he showed people half his age that they are more than capable of achieving what they want.

Thomas signed up to what would be his biggest challenge to date. He set himself a goal, he prepared his body, he researched and he pushed himself to his limits. We spent some time with Thomas recently interviewing him about his journey to the top from the planning, to the struggle and what made him sign up to start with for our most recent escape to Mount Semeru 2018.

So Thomas, what made you sign up to trek to the top of Mount Semeru with UFIT Retreats?

The Trek description was appealing and as I had never climbed so high, I saw it as a challenge. I consulted with my wife, my trainer and the Trek Leader who agreed that with some extra training I should be to accomplish it. So, I signed up.

So you sign up – that’s step one. Where did you start with your training and how much did you do in preparation for your trek?

My Personal Trainers, (Francesca Tucker and Holly Klimcke)put together an enhanced training program to help me improve my fitness level. Singapore is not ideal for mountain trek training, but I walked the MacRitchie circuit and/or the Bukit Timah stairs at least once a week for the two months before the trek. I regularly climbed the stairs up 19 floors in my apartment (380 steps) and I also participated in the training sessions organised by the Trek Leader to make sure I built my strength and endurance. 

Have you ever climbed this height or similar before?

Mount Semeru at 3,676m ASL is by far the highest mountain I have climbed. I have never climbed much more than about 2,000m ASL. 

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So after you’d done all of your preparation, grown stronger and got used to so many steps, did you have any pre-trek nerves or setbacks before you set off to East Java?

I was comfortable about the Trek to Base Camp. From what I had read it seemed to be a good achievable day. I was apprehensive about the summit climb, in particular the nature of the surface, it being loose volcanic ash/gravel and small rocks. My left knee had swollen a month or so before the trek and I had to have some physio treatment for it. So fortunately that didn’t stop me and I was given the all clear by the team at the UFIT Clinic to go ahead. It was OK at the start of the trek, but as time went on it became a little uncomfortable.

Summit day – how would you best describe your experience trekking up to the summit of Mount Semeru?

The start in the early hours of the morning was a little daunting as we trekked into the forest. I found the twisting climbing path through the forest difficult but manageable. Once we were through the forest the steep climb to the summit on the volcanic ash was increasingly difficult and I needed to rest more to reduce my heavy breathing.

The support and encouragement from the rest of the team around me and from the lead guide kept me going. As the sun came up, the summit became more visible and that urged me on.  As I finally reached the summit and saw the rest of the team, I was thrilled to have made it.

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In five words how would you describe this adventure?

Challenging, exhilarating, awe-inspiring, rewarding, tiring.

What made it so hard for you?

During the Summit climb I realised that my training had not been adequate. My stamina was not good enough, I found during the continual effort that I was having trouble breathing so I had to stop a number of times. I also found that my core strength was not good enough which made climbing on the loose surface difficult because I had trouble keeping my balance.

What bit of advice would you give to anyone considering doing a challenge like this?

Training

Take advice about the type and intensity of training and ensure that you maximise the opportunity to do it.

Trekking Kit

Ensure that you have the correct footwear, clothing and comfortable rucksack. Pack prudently given you will be carrying it up a mountain. 

Research the trek

There is a lot of information on the web about Mount Semeru including maps, details about the route and weather. I am sure there is similar information about other treks. 

You’ve conquered Mount Semeru at 3,676m – what’s next?

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I shall be signing up for the climb of Mount Fansipan in Vietnam.

If you dream it - sign up for it. Work hard to achieve it – the possibilities are endless with such an amazing community at UFIT.

For more information on our upcoming Retreats visit www.ufitbootcamps.com.sg/retreats or email us at retreats@ufit.com.sg to start your adventure with us!