Cokie Berenyi and Helen Simons “HS” Berenyi, 10, Silverton, CO
In January 2014, the pair climbed Africa’s Mt. Kilimanjaro — making HS, then 9, the youngest American female on record ever to do so.
Cokie was determined to give her two daughters the best gift she could think of: confidence. And the way she’d always achieved that feeling was by climbing mountains. So Cokie created a nonprofit called She Climbs, with the goal of building the self-esteem of women of all ages through climbing. She decided to take HS on She Climbs’ first trip, alongside another mother-daughter duo. “I got a lot of sideways looks from people, but Kilimanjaro is actually a super-safe mountain for people of all fitness levels,” says Cokie, who first climbed the mountain in 2010. In preparation, HS — a soccer player who does indoor climbing twice a week — walked six miles a day leading up to the trip and broke in two pairs of hiking shoes.
“The summit was amazing!” HS says of the stunning glaciers and clouds she saw at Kilimanjaro’s 19,340-foot peak. “And it was so special to share that moment with my mom.” Cokie appreciated the quality time, too. “The hustle and bustle of everyday life — carpool and homework and reminders to brush your teeth — doesn’t give you the opportunity to strip off all the things you have to worry about and just be,” she says. “But being together for 10 straight days on a mountain, all we had to worry about were the basics: hydrating, eating, and putting one foot in front of the other.”
HS may have been the rookie, but she managed to deeply inspire her seasoned mom. “At every setback on the trek, HS always had something positive to say,” Cokie says. “Which taught me that maybe I could be more like her.” As for HS, she just hopes to inspire girls and boys of all ages: “When I got to the summit, I told my mom that I did this to show any ordinary boy or girl that you can do anything you set your mind to.”
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