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Rotarians climbing Mount Kilimanjaro to end polio

Alison Alexander and Sarah Leatham will climb Mount Kilimanjaro next month to raise money to eradicate polio. Alison Alexander and Sarah Leatham will climb Mount Kilimanjaro next month to raise money to eradicate polio.

When Sarah Leatham told a friend at her Rotary Club she was looking for a partner for her climb up Mount Kilimanjaro, the friend suggested Alison Alexander.

Although Alexander was also a club member, Leatham didn’t know her well. They met at the Mills River Triangle Stop, which has a craft beer taproom. The time flew by.
“I’ve never closed down a gas station before,” Leatham said. “They said, ‘Y’all have to go on.’”
That marked the beginning of a lot of time the new friends would share. Since Alison committed to join Sarah and her husband, Erich, on the climb, the two of hiked, worked out and backpacked together.
“We have a very easy relationship,” Sarah says. “We are very similar and we look at things in a way that just kind of makes it happen.”
Alexander had also gotten a nudge from a friend at Rotary.
“Sarah needs someone to climb this mountain with her,” he told her. “I think you should go.”
Money raised for the climb goes to Rotary International’s effort to “End Polio Now.”
“Rotary’s been one of the largest partners to eradicate polio worldwide,” Alexander said. The partnership has reduced the number of polio cases to under 2,000 in three countries — Pakistan, Afghanistan and Nigeria. Since 1988 the Rotary effort has immunized more than 2½ billion children in 122 countries. The Gates Foundation doubles every dollar Rotary raises, up to $35 million a year.
Leatham takes her inspiration from her memory of a friend’s father when she was growing up in Columbia, Missouri. “It always made an impact on me, everything he was trying to do and how much effort it took,” she said. Her other inspiration is Diane Stillman, a friend’s aunt, who contracted polio at age 20 and died at 43. She’s carrying Stillman’s picture to the summit.
“She’s been so inspirational,” she said. “She didn’t let it stop her.”
Neither Alexander or Leatham said they’re particularly anxious about the five-day climb. Orientation sessions in Charlotte and YouTube videos have helped prepare them. Porters carry tents, cooking gear and other supplies. They’re part of a group of about a dozen Rotarians making the climb and the only ones from Western North Carolina.
“I have the passion for it and climbing in somebody’s memory and honor is going to help,” Leatham said. Having come this far, “They would have to tell me they won’t let me do it if something were to happen.”
Besides backpacking with a 50-pound pack, Alexander has been working out at Crossfit and running. The ascent is 12,952 feet and features a temperature drop of up to 100 degrees, from 100 at base camp to zero on the windy Uhuru peak. The final leg is an overnight hike culminating on the summit at daybreak.
Each Rotarian is asked to raise at least $3,000 but Alexander and Leatham both have a personal goal of at least $5,000. The Rotarians pay their own way for travel and the climb.
“This is not my vacation slush fund,” Alexander tells donors.
The trio leaves from Charlotte on July 15 and starts the climb two days later. After a two-day descent from the summit down to base camp, the Leathams and Alexander are going on a five-day safari in Tanzania. Added bonus: “We’re there when there’s a lunar eclipse going on,” Alexander said. That’s even more exotic than closing down a Triangle Stop.

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To donate to End Polio Now through Sarah or Alison visit or