Conquering new heights: Plus-sized women prove outdoors are for anyone while preparing for Mt. Kilimanjaro

PORTLAND, OR (KPTV) - It’s both a climb of a lifetime and daunting challenge: To summit Mt. Kilimanjaro – but for one group of plus-sized women, making it to the top is now only part of the goal – as they set their sights on breaking boundaries and inspiring women to enjoy the outdoors at any size.

They call themselves the “Curvy Kili Crew.” The 22 women are slated to climb Africa’s highest peak in March and hope to summit on International Women’s Day.

For the past year, the women have trained, meeting up occasionally for group sessions in different areas across the country.

Friday, 12 of the women came together for a weekend training in Portland, where group member Bonnie Crawford lives.

“I think it’s really about giving people the ability to see themselves in the outdoors,” Crawford said. “It’s being able to recognize that your body can take you to amazing places, whether you’re slow or fast, fat or thin, it’s about getting out there and starting the journey and seeing where it takes you.”

While Crawford is no stranger to physical challenges – she was a competitive swimmer in high school and college and has finished two Ironman triathlons – others group members have experienced very different trials.

“I’m a breast cancer survivor, so I was nervous -- nervous of doing it when I was like a year in remission,” said Bisa Myles, of Indiana.

Until she signed up to hike Mt. Kilimanjaro, she didn’t have much experience outdoors.

“My first hike was training, when I started training this year,” Myles said.

Myles signed up for the trip in June and just celebrated three years in remission earlier this month.

“I wanted to be a part of this group, I’ve never heard of anything like that and I never thought I could do something like that,” Myles said.

While they’ve trained hard with hiking, camping and altitude simulations, Crawford said she doesn’t expect they’ll all make it to the top.

“It’s 19,341 feet and only 60 percent of people, regardless of size, make it to the top,” Crawford said. “Some of us aren’t going to make it and I think we’ve come to terms with that -- it’s about the journey.”

And the journey to this point predates the Curvy Kili Crew. It all started on the very same mountain back in 2016.

That’s when group founder Christa Singleton attempted to summit Mt. Kilimanjaro, and nearly did, stopping just 300 of the highest point. It was an exciting challenge, but Singleton carried doubt and insecurity every step of the way, finding herself to be the heaviest and slowest member of her climbing group.

“The thoughts that I had in my head, that I didn’t belong – from the first day – it was so much harder,” Singleton said.

A year-and-a-half later, Singleton knew she wanted to return for another shot at the top.

“It felt like unfinished business, but I also said, ‘if I do it, I want to do it on my terms,’” Singleton said.

That’s when she turned online, hoping to find another plus-sized lady or two to join her on the next trip.

“To not feel like you’re the only fat person, because in a group we’re all fat,” Singleton explained.

Unexpectedly, she found herself building a community and a cause. The group swelled to 22 women – the max allowed on the trip. Thirty more women are on a waiting list for any future trips.

And with the support, the women also share their similar frustrations – like it’s tough to find outdoor gear that fits.

It’s not even just clothing,” Singleton said. “It’s sleeping bags, it’s backpacks where the belts can fit around our hips.”

“Plus-sized people want to be active and they want to be outdoors, but you don’t see them outdoors because we have nothing to wear or we feel so out of place among regular-sized hikers,” Singleton added.

The advocacy and inspiration to make the outdoors more accessible and comfortable for plus-sized women is now Singleton’s bigger mission –getting to the summit come March would be the cherry on the top.

“I just feel like I didn’t finish that last 300 feet for a reason,” Singleton said. “I feel like I was meant to get to the top with these women.”

Copyright 2018 KPTV-KPDX Broadcasting Corporation. All rights reserved.

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