Martina Navratilova succumbs to altitude sickness on Kilimanjaro

Martina Navratilova on KilimanjaroLast week we reported that tennis great Martina Navratilova was climbing Mt. Kilimanjaro in Africa to raise funds and awareness for the Laureus Sport for Good Foundation. She was setting off to reach the top of Africa’s tallest mountain, which stands 19,340 feet in height, and hoped to hit a few tennis balls off the summit to celebrate her success. But as the week wore on, she began to struggle, eventually turning back as she developed the very serious symptoms of pulmonary edema, also known as altitude sickness.

After struggling for several days on the trail, Martina was forced to turn back last Thursday when her lungs began to fill with liquid. She reached a height of 14,800 feet, but was too weak, and taking too great of a risk, to continue any higher. Instead, she was helped back down the mountain by a group of porters, who took her to a nearby hospital in Tanzania. From there, she was sent to a larger facility in Nairobi, Kenya, where she was treated for three days before being released on Sunday.

Before starting up Kili, Navratilova has never been to an altitude higher than 12,000 feet, but living in Aspen, Colorado she believed that she could acclimatize to the altitude quickly. She even went so far as to call the trek “just a basic hike.” After being released from the hospital she was singing a bit of a different tune however, saying “This was supposed to be fun, but nobody had fun. It was just survival. It is not an experience one would enjoy.”

Each year, a number of trekkers underestimate the challenge of climbing Kilimanjaro, which results in numerous evacuations from the mountain. Most are not as serious as this one however, and had she continued higher, Navratilova ran the real risk of death. Fortunately, her guides knew when to take her back down and get her the medical attention she needed.

If you’re planning a Kili climb of your own, don’t let this story dissuade you. Do your best to prepare ahead of time, getting in some good cardio workouts and go on a few distance hikes carrying a pack. When you get to Tanzania, listen to your guides, and take their advice to go “Pole! Pole!”, which means “Slowly! Slowly!” With that in mind, you’ll have a good chance of reaching the fabled snows of Kilimanjaro.

[Photo credit: Chris Jackon/Getty Images]