Age didn't stop these women from taking up a challenge

Age didn't stop these women from taking up a challenge
At 62 Connie Tan, scales mountains, runs marathons, cycles long distances and skydives.
PHOTO: The Star/ANN

To train for her maiden climb up Mount Fuji in Japan, Mahamalar Ramanathan, 77, brisked-walked no less than 10km everyday at her usual training ground - Bukit Kiara park in Taman Tun Dr Ismail, Kuala Lumpur.

"Rain or shine, I was there and I did no less than four loops around the hill every morning. I was determined to conquer Mount Fuji," says the retired teacher who is an avid climber. Just two years ago, she climbed Mount Kinabalu for the second time and at 75, she reckons she was the oldest Malaysian woman at the time to have scaled South-East Asia's highest peak.

But Mala (as she is fondly known) realised that Mount Fuji was a different beast altogether. She went to Fuji-san (as the mountain is known to the Japanese) with six other climbers from Malaysia, including her son Indra Kumar Ramanathan, 46.

"We arrived in Tokyo at around 11pm on Aug 28, and started the climb at 6am the next morning!" she says with a laugh.

The climb, she admits, was challenging.

"It took us six or seven hours to ascend. It was tough but very interesting. Unlike Mount Kinabalu, the trail was rocky and this was new to me. I used a mountain climbing stick throughout. Some parts of the trail had railings made from rope and these helped, too.

"But the biggest challenge was the weather," says Mala.

At 3,776m (325m lower than Kinabalu), Mount Fuji is the tallest mountain in Japan. It is a steep climb, with four different trails that take an average of eight to 12 hours to ascend, and another four to six hours to descend.

As the group were approaching the top of the mountain, their guide got word that the crater at the peak was closed to climbers because a storm was approaching, fast.

"As we reached the last station before the crater, we could see it was getting cloudy and gloomy. We were just 10 minutes away from the crater but no one was allowed to go on because of the strong winds. Our guide told us he had never encountered weather like this before," she recounts.

Mount Fuji's crater has eight peaks. A walk around the crater's edge to all the summits takes a couple of hours.

"It was disappointing but there was nothing we could do. The storm made our descent the most difficult part of the climb. The rain and wind was so strong and it was slippery. The raincoats we brought from home provided no protection at all … it was that bad! If not for my son, it would have been very difficult for me," recalls Mala.

Though it took close to six hours, she successfully made it down without any incidences. And although the group did not reach the crater at the peak, Mala is proud of her achievement.

"We still conquered the mountain. And under such terrible weather conditions," she says with pride.

Just months after her Mount Fuji feat, Mala has set her sights on her next destination. "Initially I wanted to climb Mount Kailash (in Tibet) next year but my friend Ranee Balaratnam - who incidentally is the one who got me into climbing - warned me that the climb up the Kailash range would take at least eight days and I would have to camp out in between or stay in huts along the way. I'm not sure I would be keen on that so for now, I am setting my sights on Mount Rinjani in Indonesia at the end of next year."

In the meantime, Mala will continue with her daily rounds in Bukit Kiara to keep fit.

"I cannot stop training. It is because of my routine at Kiara that I am able to climb. Because I train so regularly, I didn't feel any aches and pains in my legs after the climb this time around," she declares.

Life begins at 50

For the last 10 years, Connie Tan, 62, has been trekking up mountains all over the world - she's been to Nepal, New Zealand and Indonesia to name a few of her favourite destinations. But nothing quite compares to her latest climb - her trek up Mount Kilimanjaro in Tanzania, Africa, last July.

"That was marvellous," she recalls. "I'm so glad I made it … Kili was my goal, you know. It was on my 'must do' list since I started trekking 10 years ago and I made it!" she says.

Mount Kilimanjaro is the highest peak in Tanzania, standing at 4,877m above sea level. The summit (which Tan reached) is about 5,895m above sea level.

"It was so cold. I don't know how I made it. We started our climb at 12.30pm and we reached the peak at 8am the next morning! I was freezing even though I was wearing five layers on top and three at the bottom. Somewhere along the way, my guide offered me his coat as I felt I could not continue," says Tan.

"Nine of us made it to the peak; two didn't. I was the oldest in the group," she says.

Apart from climbing mountains, Tan also cycles ("only about 100km these days"), runs full marathons and swims.

"You name it, I've tried it. Or I will try it," she says with a laugh.

Although she has always been an active person, Tan only started her outdoor pursuits after her two children went to college and she had more time on her hands.

"After I turned 48 or so, I started doing all these things. By the time I was 55, I had tried skydiving, white water rafting and parachuting. Recently I went up in a hot air balloon. It was great," she says.

Apart from the fun and adventure, Tan says the best thing about travelling - particularly trekking - in different parts of the world, is that it gives her a unique perspective of the world and life.

"It's very humbling and inspiring. Besides the lovely scenery, when you trek in remote parts of the world, you see how people live. Up in the mountains, you see how simple life is. It has given me a different perspective on life. That is the best part about trekking - getting to know different cultures, meet new people, see new places … it's incredible," says Tan.

Age, she asserts, is not a barrier when it comes to living life to the fullest.

"You can do this at any age as long as you train and go at your own pace. My advice is, 'don't be a hero'. Don't decide to climb a mountain overnight. It's a matter of training; anyone can do it at any age," says Tan.

Rain or shine

Angie Teh, 57, can count the number of times she missed her early morning walks up Bukit Kiara in the last 10 years. "I am there every morning at 4.30, seven days a week. It's very rare that I miss a day and when I do, I feel lethargic and restless," says Teh, who works as a personal assistant to the general manager at Hino Motors.

Teh wasn't always this active though. She took up walking some 10 years ago and her main goal at the time, she admits, was to shed weight.

"My sister-in-law used to walk regularly and she invited me to join her. I agreed because I wanted to lose weight. Initially, we went on weekends but I enjoyed the morning walks so much that I started to go more often on my own," shares Teh.

She achieved her goal - she lost 8kg over time - but she did not stop there. She started trekking hills - Gasing Hills in Petaling Jaya and Apek Hill in Cheras, Kuala Lumpur.

Teh attempted her first trek up Gunung Nuang (in Hulu Langat on the border of Pahang, Negri Sembilan and Selangor) three years ago and she was hooked. She went up Mount Kinabalu in 2013.

"I managed to catch the sunrise, from the peak," says Teh, proudly.

Teh was part of the group which hiked up Mount Fuji, along with Mala, on Aug 28.

"I love the challenge of trekking and climbing. Mount Fuji was tough. It was a hard climb and very challenging. I enjoyed the Mount Kinabalu climb more because of the flora and fauna we saw along the way. Mount Fuji was very rocky and not too scenic. Gunung Nuang was among the toughest mountains; it was steep and being a virgin rainforest, denser than the other mountains I had tackled. It was also one of my early treks and I was inexperienced," says Teh who has two sons, neither of whom follows in her treks.

Because of her daily walks averaging 8km a day, Teh says she does not have to do extra training before a trek.

"We might train at Batu Caves … going up and down the steps a few times but we don't really do extra training before a climb," she says.

"If you go up Bukit Kiara, you will see many seniors who go for daily walks. If you look at them, you will notice how fit and strong they are. They don't hunch, they don't pant and they are full of energy. Regular exercise pays off and you can see it," says Teh. "Age has nothing to do with it."

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