Saturday, May 25, 2024

A Local Woman’s Physical and Emotional Journey ‘Everesting’

Sarah Hoopengardner at Base Camp for the Snow Basin Everesting Challenge in August 2023. Sarah, having been stationed in Japan went by the name Mama San Hoop. (Photo courtesy of Sarah Hoopengardner)

A local Coronado resident and Navy spouse recently participated in the Everesting Challenge at Snowbasin in Utah. Looking for a new challenge that would push her past her physical and emotional limits, Sarah Hoopengardner decided to join the Everesting community and train to hike 29,029 feet, the height of Mount Everest, in just 36 hours. According to the co-founders Marc Hodulich and Jesse Itzler, Everesting is “a new category of challenge that’s equal parts physical, mental, and spiritual… requiring commitment, patience, and a whole lot of grit.”

Sarah shared her story about what drew her to the challenge and how it changed her life. As a military wife and mother of two, Sarah has always put her family’s needs before her own. From taking care of the logistics of their many international moves to ensuring the children’s transitions go smoothly, Sarah handles the responsibilities on the homefront so that her husband is able to fully focus on his Navy career.

Sarah Hoopengardner at the top of Snow Basin during her Everesting challenge. (photo courtesy of Sarah Hoopengardner)

While she loves being part of the Navy family, she often felt as though she lost a bit of focus on herself so she started to incorporate a new personal physical challenge every year, what she referred to as the misogi challenge. She came upon this term while stationed in Japan and misogi means “difficult challenges in nature.” These challenges required her to take time for herself to train, and that training helped her improve both physically and mentally.  As she approached turning 40 she was determined to do something big; she had trained for marathons and half marathons in the past but wanted more.

A high school friend of Sarah’s shared her experience with the Everesting Challenge and it intrigued her. Having never really spent much time hiking, Everesting was new and exciting, offering a challenge unlike any she faced before. She and her friend committed to training for the event and Sarah began her journey in January. Sarah said “the community is really cool, each event has 300 like-minded people, going through a hurt-locker, but there is no negativity, everyone pushes each other, encouraging each other to continue on.” The specialized training plan called for six months of training with coaches providing a detailed build-up in elevation and distance, and a community to support participants through every stage.

Sarah’s photo from the top of Snow Basin.

While the training commitment is intense and required a lot of planning and some time away from the family, it only served to strengthen her family’s relationship. The communication required to schedule all the daily routines along with her training requirements made everyone a bit more productive and involved and resulted in family time being more special and fun.

Coronado doesn’t really lend itself to training for an intense climb, but Sarah said the training plan allowed for a mixture of distance runs and elevation climbs (that could be reached on a climbing machine at a gym). San Diego also has numerous hikes that make for great ways to get out in nature to reach your elevation goals.

Hikers make their way up Snow Basin. (Photo Courtesy of Sarah Hoopengardner.)

Everesting events this year took place in six locations in North America, from Stratton in Vermont to Whistler in Canada. The locations for 2024 will be announced on October 3rd, and Sarah expects two additional locations to be added. Sarah chose Snow Basin for her challenge and participated in the event in August. She felt physically and mentally prepared for the challenge, but what she didn’t expect was the struggle she faced with altitude sickness and some breathing challenges caused by asthma. The climb has medical staff on- site that made her feel safe and able to continue even after struggling in the beginning. The community of coaches and other participants encouraged her along the way. Her own mental strength and pulling from her experience as a military spouse, and her community of military spouses who had faced and overcome adversity in the past pushed her through some of the most challenging parts of the climb. Unfortunately, she had to recognize that while her body was fully trained for the challenge, the altitude and dusty conditions would require her to stop short of her goal of 29,029 feet.

Sarah’s children help keep track of her progress, logging which mountains her climbing distance was equivalent to. Photo Courtesy of Sarah Hoopengardner

“When I signed up for this event I was excited to do something so few have accomplished. I was excited to challenge myself in a way I could never have imagined. What I came away with was honestly life changing. In the end I finished 7 of the 13 laps with hours to spare for extras but I realized I was at my limit,” said Sarah. “This event was designed to test the human spirit and determination and it did just that. I wanted to show my kids that if you challenge yourself you can do great things if you put the effort in.”

Sarah climbed 16,050 feet, the equivalent height of Mount Vinson, the highest mountain in Antarctica. Her total distance logged was more than 30 miles which included both the climbing and the walking to and from aid stations and the camp. Sarah was so inspired by this experience that she is planning to try it again in a different location with a lower altitude. Sarah shared her thoughts for others that might be interested in this, saying, “For my adventure seeking friends, consider this event. You will 100% walk away a different person. For my non-athletic friends, don’t let physical challenges scare you. I saw every age, body type and ‘why reason’ driving people to do the impossible. This event makes every person come back a different person. It will be perpetual growth from day one. There will be plenty of days of unseen growth and perseverance no one recognizes except yourself but you will still have to push through not looking for that acknowledgment. You will need to break outside of your comfort zone and open yourself up to new opportunities through a challenge that’s equal parts physical, mental, and spiritual.”



Jeannie Groeneveld
Jeannie Groeneveld
Jeannie is a retired Naval Aviator and Public Affairs Officer whose post-Navy career includes freelance writing, PR Consulting and a two year stint as the San Diego Padres Military Affairs Advisor. Having been stationed in various parts of the country including Washington D.C., Florida and Hawaii, Jeannie appreciates how amazing the Coronado community is and loves the experience her children have had growing up here. Jeannie earned her BS in Marine Biology from Auburn University, her MS in Global Leadership from the University of San Diego and her MA in Communication and Media Relations at San Diego State University. A life-long learner and avid traveler Jeannie enjoys writing travel pieces, Navy stories and anything else that will broaden her perspective. When she is not working you will find her watching her boys play sports, walking Odin at dog beach, hiking, playing beach volleyball or spending time with the family.Have news to share? Send tips, story ideas or letters to the editor to: [email protected]

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