Kara Richardson Whitely has hiked Mount Kilimanjaro three times while weighing as much as 300 pounds. We think she embodies the spirit of JunoActive, because our ultimate goal is to support each woman’s personal version of active. Whitely wore JunoActive clothing during her Kilimanjaro climbs. Her new, inspiring and empowering book, entitled Gorge, shares her experience. She recently appeared at the Barnes and Noble in Edina, MN for her book tour. Anne Kelly, president of JunoActive was there to introduce her to her fans. Here’s the personal interview she gave to JunoActive:
What was your initial inspiration to climb the mountain?
The first time was a celebration of my 120-pound weight loss. The second was trying to be in that place of losing weight but since I took my body and the mountain for granted, I had to turn back, defeated. The third was about being happy with who and where I was and going from there.
Taking the 3rd shot at climbing Kilimanjaro took amazing courage - so does writing a book - what differences and similarities did you experience with the two?
Well, both are a long haul and have difficulties along the way! When I was writing Gorge, I had to relive a lot of painful experiences and it was hard to inhabit them to really show them on the page. But when I was finished both accomplishments -- the mountain and the book -- I was brought to tears of joy.
What did you gain from each of the two summits and the one attempt at Kilimanjaro?
Each of these experiences was valuable. I think the one attempt showed me how much I wanted to end on top. The third hike, the one featured in Gorge, taught me that I have strength to get through the difficulty and succeed.
Did you experience any gear or equipment problems during any trips?
Like a lot of plus-size people it was hard getting gear that fit! Thankfully, JunoActive was there for me with the right fitting gear to help me make it up the mountain!
Who gave you inspiration and support to go the three times?
My husband and my in-laws were my rock during my training and watching our young daughter (my youngest daughter wasn't born yet) while I was away. I wouldn't have been able to take on this journey without them. They continue to be my support while I'm out on the road, talking about Gorge.
What was the scariest moment during any of the trips? The most inspiring?
One of the scariest moments was on my third day of the trek when I got a terrible altitude headache. Fortunately, I was able to take some medication and recover. Unfortunately, one of my fellow hikers had a much worse case of altitude sickness.... but you'll have to read Gorge to find out what happened!
What was the big takeaway from the last summit and has it influenced what you are doing and plan on doing in the future? What's next?
That I have the strength within me to move beyond my past in any direction I decide. As much as I love Africa's highest peak, I'd like to move on to other mountains. I'd like to do a Hawaiian family vacation including lots of hiking at the end of the year. Hiking will always be a part of my life, no matter where I am on the scale.
To learn more about Kara Richardson Whitely and Gorge, click HERE.
I was 28 when I finally decided to go to college. It's not that I couldn't get the loans before that, or had circumstances that kept me from going. It's that when I turned 28, I knew what I was going to do, and be good at.
I went to school for Business & Marketing. I wanted to get into advertising. In my mind, I could sell water to a fish, so I figured getting people to buy Cadillacs or an off brand of sandals wouldn't be so hard. I kept a 4.0, or at least close to it, for the years I attended. Then the day finally came, and I graduated. Never thought it would come, since they tell you a date when you first sign up for classes and it's so far off that it just goes in one ear and out the other. I landed a job at JunoActive three months later. I told my friends and family I was going to work as a Marketing Specialist for a plus size clothing line and the response was pretty unanimous from everyone - "You're too skinny to work at a place like that." I also got, "Are you the only little one there?" When the reality of it was that no one who works there is big. After about a week on the job, to my relief, I found that what size you are doesn't matter one bit. Not in the Marketing Department. Women buy clothes for the same reasons no matter what size, shape, color or race they are. All women want stylish pieces that fit perfect and feel good on. So I was in familiar territory for sure. I have been witness to two photo shoots since joining the company. It was mostly at the second one when I started looking at the clothes and realizing, I really liked them. I workout regularly and to see the models in some of the pieces, I went into shopping mode. Then I felt SoftWik. It was like butter under my fingertips. I found an XL and realized that as a woman who normally wears a small, that it just wouldn't work. My next idea, when I couldn't get the feel of the SoftWik out my mind was to get the XL and take it to my seamstress. After talking with a co-worker, I ended up ordering just the fabric to take in and have a shirt made. This was after measuring my upper body five different ways to try and determine if I would need one yard or two. Then it dawned on me.... It was in that moment that I realized, this is what our customers go through. They go to a place like Express or The Buckle, and don't see a single item that would fit their frame. Who knows, they probably wonder if they could get their seamstress to let some items out. The amount of stores that carry size 6x clothing is limited to say the least. The way I was trying to figure out how to get a t-shirt made out of the softest fabric I've ever touched, was exactly what Anne went through that lead her to found the company JunoActive. It is still a struggle. I go to work everyday and see the new styles coming up or arriving, and I still don't fit into any of them. It's like putting a cat next to a pile of catnip and telling him none of it is his. It's insanity. At the same time though, it has shed some light on what it's like to be the cat.