Justin Malczewski and Vernon D’Souza are preparing to climb Mount Kilimanjaro.

Friends come together for charity climb

Justin Malczewski and Vernon D’Souza preparing to tackle Mount Kilimanjaro for B.C. Children’s Hospital

If you’re going to climb to the top of the hill, it’s better to have company.

And when that peak is Mount Kilimanjaro in Tanzania – at 19,341 feet above sea level, the highest mountain in Africa – who better to do it with than a good buddy and a friendly competitor?

That’s the theory behind the partnership of two Star of the Sea Elementary dads, Justin Malczewski and Vernon D’Souza, who are going to make the climb this October – along with a team of some 12 other climbers – as part of regular fundraising climbs organized by non-profit Summits of Hope on behalf of B.C. Children’s Hospital.

“It’s an amazing organization that’s raised some $1.5 million for the hospital over the last few years,” said Malczewski.

The White Rock friends also plan to use the trip as a teaching and inspirational aid to children at the school, through pre-climb and post-climb talks and by taking prayer flags for each of the classes to the summit (donations from individuals and organizations are also being accepted to take prayer flags up with them – one of the principal ways, as well as general donations, they will raise funds from the trip).

Both have a lot in common – D’Souza’s sons Mason, eight, and Kieran, five, and Malczwski’s youngest boys, Jack, seven, and James, 12 (he also has two adult children) all attend Star of the Sea in White Rock.

Malczewski is coach and D’Souza an assistant coach on Jack’s baseball team. And both are in the telecommunications business – Malczewski is a senior account executive for Telus, while D’Souza is a manager for Globalive (parent company of Wind Mobile).

And both cite the support of their spouses – D’Souza’s wife, Paula, and Malczewski’s wife, Dawn – as crucial to the enterprise, for which each is laying out some $5,500 in travel and equipment costs.

“We’ve cancelled our family vacation for the next two years,” D’Souza said of his clan. “But it’s not like I’m sad about it. We’ve agreed this is something worth doing, and there is a sacrifice to be made.”

Both D’Souza and Malczewski agree that supporting Children’s Hospital is a worthy cause – even though neither family has had to use the facility.

“We’ve been lucky that we haven’t been among those who’ve had to,” Malczewski said. “In a way, that’s even more of a reason for us to do it.”

What bodes particularly well for the trip is that both Malczewski and D’Souza also have the same dry, laid-back sense of humour, and twinkle-in-the-eyes one-upmanship that characterizes friends of long standing.

D’Souza may not boast of his experience as a climber, but he has been up Mount Stromboli in Italy, and the Annapurna base camp in Nepal, as well as making treks up Mount Seymour, the Grouse Grind and three times up Toronto’s CN Tower.

He acknowledges neophyte Malczewski’s grueling pre-climb regimen – he’s already up to three or four Grouse Grinds a week – with a smile.

“I was born in Kenya,” he said. “I’m already ripped. You may not see that, but I’m already so far ripped.”

For his part, Malczewski is quick to lay blame for his involvement in the upcoming climb at D’Souza’s door.

“Neither one of us have really done much climbing, although Vern’s sister did Kilimanjaro a few years ago and came back raving about it, and another parent at Star of the Sea did it a few years ago.

“I think Vern’s always had it on his bucket list.”

That’s why, when D’Souza started talking about Kilimanjaro and the Summits of Hope climb earlier this year, Malczewski was receptive to what he took to be a donation pitch.

“I said, ‘I’m in for 100 bucks’,” he recalled. “He gave me a look and said, ‘You’re coming.’”

Underlying their light-hearted banter is the understanding that climbing Kilimanjaro, with the object of reaching the highest altitude, is no walk in the park.

“Less than 45 per cent who start out make it to the top,” D’Souza said.

That’s why Summits of Hope, which aims to have every participant reach the top, does a certain amount of vetting and setting training standards before it puts teams of climbers together – which suits the two White Rock participants.

“On an adventure like this, you don’t want to go with a stuffed shirt,” Malczewski said.

Just getting to Kilimanjaro is a challenge. They will fly to Amsterdam for a one-night stopover before talking a second flight to the airport nearest Kilimanjaro in Tanzania.

The climb itself will take place in a window for Oct. 6 to 20, with Summits of Hope organizers deciding when climbers are acclimatized – and setting a reasonable pace for the climb.

“We’re not looking for rock stars here,” Malczewski said. “It’s a case where slow and steady wins the race. You can summit in five days – but we’re taking seven.”

But they can’t deny that, as the date for the climb gets closer, the excitement is building.

“Every one of us arriving for that climb is going to be pumped,” D’Souza said.

For more information on ways to donate to the climb, email Malczewski  (justin_malczewski@hotmail.com) or D’Souza (dsouza@shaw.ca).


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