Reaching the Summit

Winter 2023/2024 Living Power Magazine

alan foster

Alan Foster isn’t the type of person to just sit around. Foster retired in 2009 from a career that included four years in the Air Force and more than two decades as a paramedic with Wake County EMS. After retirement, he took on a part-time role with Rex Hospital, where he currently serves as the director of emergency preparedness management.

While that work kept him busy, the desk job didn’t give Foster the same active lifestyle he enjoyed as a paramedic. So he began hiking and camping, eventually traversing part of the Appalachian Trail. As he got deeper into hiking, he looked for a new challenge and found it on Mount Kilimanjaro, the highest mountain in Africa and the highest freestanding peak in the world.

“I had a high school friend who had done it a couple years prior, which sort of sparked my interest,” Foster says.”I started doing research and finally decided to do it.”

Foster’s oldest daughter and her boyfriend joined him on the journey to Tanzania, where Kilimanjaro is located, in September. Their trek up the mountain took seven days, hiking and then camping in segments to allow their bodies to acclimate to the altitude—Kilimanjaro towers 19,341 feet above sea level.

“That was sort of a life lesson, too,” Foster says. “Taking shortcuts and trying to do things too fast often leads to failure.”

Though they took their time, Foster’s daughter experienced altitude sickness that rendered her unable to complete the climb. Her boyfriend accompanied her back down the mountain, and Foster trudged on. By the time they’d reached the peak from base camp, several other hikers from their group also bowed out, leaving Foster with just two others reaching the top.

“[Summiting Kilimanjaro] was easily the hardest physical and mental challenge I’ve ever put myself through, and that includes military basic training that I did as a teenager in a much better physical condition,” he says.

While Foster says he won’t climb any other mountains soon, he believes the active lifestyle he’s kept up since—regular walks, swimming, and other activities—have helped him maintain the conditioning that allowed him to reach the mountaintop. As he prepares for his daughter’s nuptials—her boyfriend proposed on Kilimanjaro that day—he knows that healthy lifestyle will allow him to enjoy more of life’s big moments ahead.

“She’s got a wedding coming up, and I’ll be around hopefully to participate and be physically able to travel if I need to,” he says. “There are so many benefits of staying active and healthy and finding a challenge like a Kilimanjaro or an Appalachian Trail hike that will make you prepare and stay focused on your health and well-being.”