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Meet Welela Dawit, #GetFit Kenya Ambassador

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A key factor in Welela’s success in completing the climb was all the support and encouragement she received from those around her.

When Welela Dawit, Financial Planning and Analysis Leader at GE Africa, started her new role with GE in Nairobi, she realized it meant more than a new job in a new location – it was a chance for new lifestyle. Coming from a family who suffers from high blood pressure and diabetes, she knew her current way of life was sending her on the same path. So Welela got herself in gear, and took on one of the toughest physical feats in the world – climbing to the highest peak on Mount Kilimanjaro. Find out more about Welela’s climb here.

Please share with us your experience recently climbing Mount Kilimanjaro.

I recently returned from a trip climbing Mt Kilimanjaro. I went with two very good friends of mine – Derek Bell, who works with GE Aviation, and his wife, Jackie. It was one of the most difficult physical and mental experiences I have ever had.  After nearly a week of trekking through 5 different ecosystems, and gaining over 13,000ft of altitude to reach 19,341ft, we made it to Uhuru peak, Kilimanjaro’s highest peak. Thankfully, I didn’t suffer any altitude sickness … likely due to the fact all my training was done in Nairobi, and I’m originally from East Africa – I’m convinced my physiology helped me avoid that major inconvenience!

Was this you first major mountain climb?

Yes, it was.  I’m a city girl.  Before living in Nairobi, I called Manhattan home.  I did some smaller day hikes as part of my training, but never anything like this.  This climb was 100% outside my comfort zone.

What did you learn most about yourself through the experience, training and actually completing the climb?

It takes a village … any previous attempts at trying to take better care of myself, I always put 100% of the burden on me … I was too shy to open up to people around me.  A key factor in my success in completing the climb was all the support and encouragement I received from those around me.  When you have people you care about holding you accountable to your goals, and they care enough to  help you along the way, it’s unbelievably motivating and inspiring.  There are some remarkable women in the GE office in Kenya who would workout with me, take me out on day hikes or just gave me the words of encouragement I needed to keep focused.  Derek and Jackie made the promise a year earlier they would do the climb with me to keep me to my word.  I previously never allowed myself to accept that kind of open support. 

What motivated you to do the climb?

Well, last fall, I started my new role in Nairobi.  So, I thought … new job, new location, and chance at a new me. I admittedly had not done a good job at taking of myself for some time, and it had taken its toll.  I figured to myself, I need to take advantage of my new location, do something that is a complete departure from me, and have a task that was so physical, it would be a good long term goal to keep me motivated to make smarter life decisions that would lead to a healthier lifestyle.

How do you feel now that the climb is complete?

Thrilled! The feeling you have when you reach the summit … I wish I could bottle it.  It was a life changing experience, and it has given me a level of confidence that I cannot really explain. It also makes me think a lot of what I did in the last year to be able to accomplish that goal – hard work really does pay off.  It’s something nobody can ever take away from me.

How are you motivated to live a healthy lifestyle overall? Why is healthy living so important to you?

I know how it feels to be unhealthy, and the toll it can take on you, and those around you, and now I know what it feels like to live a healthy lifestyle. I have more energy, I am more productive at work, my relationships are healthier … I just feel better. Unfortunately, I lost my father to complications from Diabetes, and many members of my family of suffer from it along with high blood pressure, and manage their diseases through medication. I want to prevent myself from ever being diagnosed as a Diabetic, or being told I need to medicate myself to manage my blood pressure. Last fall, my glucose levels indicated I was pre-diabetic, and headed down a very dangerous, and scary path … today, I have completely reversed that.

Why did you choose climbing as a way to maintain a healthy lifestyle? What is it about climbing that interests you?

Well … I don’t see myself doing any major climbs in the near future, but day hikes for sure.  I quickly learned that camping is not my thing!  However, day hikes are a great way to get away from the bustle of Nairobi with some beautiful scenery … it’s a great way to disconnect from everyone and everything.  Plus, it doesn’t even feel like you are working out.

What else do you do to help maintain good health? Any tips you have for our readers?

Now that the climb is done, I have a new goal I am working towards. As part of my training, I realized how much I enjoy running. So, the 2013 goal is a marathon. Tamla Oates-Forney, Senior HRM for GE Africa, has the same goal, and has actually put the challenge out there for the entire GE Africa community. Like I said, it’s takes a village! I have started to explore other ways to keep fit such as Bikram Yoga, which I love. I guess my best piece of advice is keep looking around until you find what works for you. I get very bored of the gym, or if I do the same thing too many times. I have a trainer who mixes things up, I run a few times a week, I do yoga or will go for a hike. As long as I’m moving, I am happy. Nutrition is just as important. I benefit being in Nairobi since everything I eat is as natural and organic as it comes … I even have a vegetable garden just outside my house.  

In your opinion, why is leading a healthy lifestyle so important in daily life?

My quality of life is infinitely better than what it was a year ago. Besides the obvious benefits to your physical and mental well-being, i am a much more confident person – which helps when you move to a new city, and have to make friends! This new lifestyle has also exposed me to experiences I never considered a year ago, which has not only connected me to new people, but also strengthened and deepened my existing relationships.

What would you say to the global community to encourage them to maintain a healthy lifestyle?

It is never too late to make a change … and every little bit counts. I went at a pace that worked for me, made small changes here and there to see what worked and what did not, and I had to constantly keep my expectations in check.  My life has forever changed for the better, and I’m not looking back!