Clockwise from L., Asma, Alya, Hasna'a, Leena, Noura, Mashael, Hatun, Mona and Samaher
Eleven Saudi women flew out to the Nepalese capital Kathmandu last night on the first leg of their two-week journey to try and scale Mount Everest.
Their campaign -- dubbed “A Woman’s Journey – Destination Mount Everest” – aims to promote awareness of breast cancer, express moral support for women sufferers and underscore the importance of healthier lifestyles and physical fitness.
Breast cancer is the most common cancer among Saudi women. Around 8,000 cases are discovered each year of which 50 to 60 percent are diagnosed at a late stage. Despite government efforts, the rate of breast cancer has climbed from 7.6 percent 10 years ago to its current high of 24 percent of all cancer cases. Women over the age of 40 are at high risk and early diagnosis is key for increasing survival chances.
All 11 Saudi women taking the breast cancer fight to the earth’s highest mountain, with a peak at 8,848 meters, on the Nepal, Tibet and China borders, have relatives or friends who fought or are fighting the ailment.
Led by HRH Princess Reema Bint Bandar Bin Sultan Bin Abdulaziz Al Saud, the driving force behind the May 7-21 campaign, they are: Alya Al-Sa'ad, Hatun Madani, Mona Shahab, Noura Bouzo, Leena Al-Maeena, Samaher Mously, Asma Al-Ghalib, Mashael Al-Hegelan, Hasna’a Mokhtar and Raha Moharrak.
Here is how the pink warriors describe themselves and their preparations for the challenge on the expedition’s Facebook page:
PRINCESS REEMA is president and CEO of ALFA International and AL HAMA LLC, two leading luxury retail conglomerates. The groups operate the Harvey Nichols department store in Riyadh.
Raised and educated in Washington, D.C., she earned her B.A. from George Washington University. Upon her return to Saudi Arabia in 2002, she cofounded Yibreen, a women's day spa in Riyadh.
Princess Reema is also a founding member of the Zahra Breast Cancer Association and sits on the Board of Advisors of the Institute of Civil Leadership.
She is the granddaughter of the late Crown Prince Sultan, who passed away last October. Her father, Prince Bandar, was Saudi Arabia's ambassador to the United States from 1983 to 2005, when he was appointed Secretary-General of the National Security Council.
ALYA AL-SA'AD was born and raised in Saudi but is currently living in Portugal. “I am passionate about sports and adventure activities,” she wrote on the group’s Facebook page before heading to Mount Everest. “I divide my time between seeing my family in Saudi and chasing my next dream of becoming the first ‘Arab Middle Eastern female surfer in history’ with the help of my personal trainer (my husband) and Algarve Surf School in Portugal, where we also have an outdoor adventure business.
“The next challenge after the surfing will be to compete in the Tour De France cycling competition… I eat straight from my organic vegetable garden and enjoy the seafood that the Portuguese coastline has to offer!
“My normal training regime of gym, running, cycling, surfing, swimming has been adjusted to consider the fitness requirements of the daily six-hour trekking on Everest. I added cliff hiking with 15kg backpack, sand dune running and plyometric beach exercises to work on muscular strength and endurance. Before Everest people always called me a gym rat, as I love to workout everyday!”
HATUN MADANI, from al-Madinah al-Munawarah, is a 37-year-old mother of three supportive children aged 16, 13, and 10. She graduated from Mount Vernon College in Washington DC and is currently living in Dubai and working as a Senior Property Advisor. She is passionate about cooking and is always up for a challenge and a new adventure.
“It is an honor to be a part of this team. I love a challenge so I didn’t think twice when I heard about this journey and the cause. I am all for promoting healthy living and supporting breast cancer patients… I have done lots and lots of cardio and endurance training.”
Hatun will be climbing for her friends Sara and Deema Balhejaila.
MONA SHAHAB likes to describe herself as "a citizen of the world". She is a proud Boston University and Tufts University alumni, where she studied Child Clinical Psychology. She is passionate about working with children and is addicted to tennis. She loves the outdoors, the ocean, sports, adventure, history, Africa, new cultures, books, Gandhi, and a good meal.
She will be climbing on behalf of her aunt, a family friend, and the women of ‘Lahnat Al-Amal’, a support group at the Saudi Cancer Foundation in the Eastern Province.
“I lost one too many friends to cancer, therefore I will do anything and everything in my power to advocate a healthy lifestyle.
“I've been exercising for some time now. It all started back in October 2011, when a group of friends and I started training for Kilimanjaro4Cancer. I've been spending hours at the gym and running outdoors. A lot of walking on a treadmill on an incline in my training boots, and a ton of squats and lunges to strengthen the legs. I'm addicted to tennis so a lot of tennis as well. I don’t miss any class I can fit into my schedule, whether it's dance, circuit, Pilates, Bikram Yoga, etc…
“I was also planning on running the Boston marathon this year. But since Everest Base Camp popped up, I decided to postpone the Boston marathon.”
NOURA BOUZO is the co-founder and creative director of Oasis Magazine, an Arts & Culture and Lifestyle publication. She studied Fine Arts and holds a Masters degree in Art History.
Noura will be climbing for her cousin.
“To prepare for this journey, I've been exercising daily. I've also been researching what to expect on Everest. Although there are a lot of challenges we will be going through, both physical and mental, I'm really looking forward to it.”
LEENA AL-MAEENA is the cofounder and director of Jeddah United Sports Co., the first private Saudi sports company targeting males and females, and captains Jeddah United’s women basketball team.
Leena is also a regular guest speaker on women and sports in Saudi Arabia at local and international forums and conferences, her aim being to promote sports locally and change stereotypes of Saudi women internationally.
She will be climbing for Dr. Samia Alamoudi, the icon for breast cancer awareness campaigns in Saudi Arabia and the Gulf Cooperation Council (GCC), for her cousin Aisha Al-Khateeb, a breast cancer survivor, as well as for her friends Deema and Sara Balhejaila.
SAMAHER MOUSLY, an analyst at Elixir Consultancy firm, is an American University in Cairo (AUC) graduate in Actuarial Science with a minor in Economics and Computer Science.
“I am training harder than ever – running and jogging between five and eight kilometers a day and taking the stairs, rather than the elevator, of every building I enter.”
She will be climbing for her aunt Hannan.
ASMA AL-GHALIB, a former AUC student, is a native of Jeddah, where she currently works as a journalist. She says she is most eager to spread awareness of the importance of healthy living and regular exercise in helping ward off breast cancer.
MASHAEL AL-HEGELAN, 36, is an internal medicine physician with a subspecialty in Pulmonary and Critical Care from America’s Duke University. She is an avid scuba diver and loves horseback riding as well as reading.
“This journey is amazing in its purpose, uniqueness and the symbolic meaning behind it. While the trek to Mount Everest base camp is to educate and spread awareness about breast cancer, many wonder how the two are related.
“When a person is diagnosed with cancer, it feels like they have been hit with the greatest challenge of their lives, a burden or an obstacle as colossal as the highest peak in the world...
“By taking this journey, we are saying Mount Everest can be climbed by your average person. It is only as scary as you make it, and one step at a time will get you to your goal and you WILL overcome the obstacle.
“Preparation for this journey has been like BOOT CAMP… Meeting three or four times a week with the personal trainers, walking on an incline with my backpack, or attending aerobics classes and running on other days -- it has been an intensive three months of training and preparation.”
Mashael will be climbing for her late grandmother Amal Shalabi who passed away in 1993 at the age of 55, her best friend Mervat Al-Ajroush who passed away in 2000 at the age of 33 leaving behind two children aged 11 and 7 at the time, and on behalf of another close friend, Muneera Al-Nahedh who is celebrating her 12th cancer-free year.
HASNA’A MOKHTAR, 35, is an account manager at Adalid Public Relations – the agency organizing A Woman’s Journey: Destination Mount Everest. She volunteered in 2010 at Women Aware, a nonprofit organization based in Montreal that helps victims of domestic abuse.
“I am taking part in this campaign because I am the account manager and in charge of working closely with HRH Princess Reema... I feel extremely privileged to have been given this once in a lifetime opportunity. I hope we can deliver the message across the globe and raise awareness about this fatal disease.
“I started training at the gym in February. I did lots of cardio workouts and weight training. A month before the trip, I joined a fitness boot camp, where they really pushed me hard to improve my stamina. I stopped using elevators and have been climbing staircases instead...
RAHA MOHARRAK, a native of Jeddah now based in Dubai, is a graduate in Visual Communication from the American University of Sharjah. She describes herself as “a sports enthusiast and an adventurous spirit by nature,” adding: “I feel honored to be part of a campaign that empowers Saudi woman and raises awareness and sheds light on a taboo subject…
“I have taken a weekly six-day cross training program that involves spinning, volleyball, scuba diving, and horseback riding. From my previous experience with Kilimanjaro, I learned that cross training and a healthy diet are vital. But the sine qua non of preparation is building your stamina so you can keep up with the pace while continuing to enjoy the journey all the more.”
Mount Everest, Saudi pink climbers are coming! -- 05 April 2012