By Climbing Mount Kilimanjaro, Local Nonprofit Exec Helps Students Overcome Obstacles

Approximately 19,341 feet above sea level is the summit of Mount Kilimanjaro in Tanzania: the highest peak in Africa. For many, reaching the top is a distant dream, unattainable for a number of reasons. However, Ossining resident Kurt Kannemeyer recently proved reaching it is possible. All you need is proper motivation, he says.

Kannemeyer, a 37-year-old South African native, is chief development officer at St. Christopher’s Inc., a Dobbs Ferry-based nonprofit serving teens with behavioral, emotional, and learning disabilities. He originally attempted the climb in 2013 but had to abort due to high-altitude health complications. He was victorious on his second attempt, reaching Kilimanjaro’s summit after a seven-day climb in April 2015.

But Kannemeyer is not a career climber—in fact, Kilimanjaro was his first successful climb. (He’s hooked now, though, and has two new goals: climbing to the Advanced Base Camp of Mount Everest and re-climbing Mount Kilimanjaro using the original route that he failed to finish on the first attempt.) To prepare for his second climb at Kilimanjaro, Kannemeyer logged many hours doing cardio and strength training at Club Fit in Briarcliff Manor, and he changed his diet, losing about 30 pounds.

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According to Kannemeyer, his motivation to take on this challenge was two-fold: “My first goal was to raise awareness for the work [St. Christopher’s does] and for the kids.” To him, Mount Kilimanjaro symbolizes the obstacles that many of the children at St. Christopher’s face in their everyday lives. The climb served as a fundraiser; Kannemeyer raised roughly $15,000, which is going toward building a new Independent Living Services Center on St. Christopher’s Valhalla campus.

His second reason was more personal: Kannemeyer’s mother, Gladys, passed away from breast cancer in 2014, so he wanted to complete the climb to honor her memory. “She always told me that life’s not about what you amass. It’s about making a difference in the life of somebody else,” he says. 

When he finally reached Kilimanjaro’s peak, Kannemeyer says he didn’t have a huge emotional reaction (that came later); he was more concerned with his health and how tiring the journey had been. Perhaps unsurprisingly, Kannemeyer places higher emphasis on everyday interactions with his students. He cites a recent conversation with a student named Isaiah, who used Kannemeyer’s climb as motivation for completing his exams and graduating.

“He said, ‘Mr. Kurt you showed me hard work pays off. Even though it’s hard like climbing that mountain, I can do it,’” Kannemeyer says. And for him, that is a better reward than climbing any mountain.•

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