By Rudy Arispe ’97 BA
When Samantha Mangum ’06 BA makes up her mind to do something, she’ll climb any mountain in the world to achieve it. And, in fact, she has.
To date, Mangum, 30, has scaled three of the highest mountains across the globe as part of her grandiose mission to climb the Seven Summits after nearly losing her life.
In 2002, Mangum was in a car accident near Fort Stockton, Texas. Her car, she said, rolled about 10 times across the length of three football fields.
“The first time the car flipped I remember seeing the ground, and I don’t remember anything after that,” she recalled. “I woke up and I could hear the sound of a helicopter.”
After being airlifted to an Odessa hospital, Mangum spent the next two weeks recuperating from two broken hips, a cracked skull, punctured lungs and a shattered right arm. Doctors told her she would never walk or run normally again because of the severity of the hip injuries.
“The recovery process was long. I had to learn to walk again,” she said. “They told me I would have trouble walking for the rest of my life, and that after five years I would develop arthritis in my hips.”
But Mangum, who friends describe as having a tenacious and fierce, fighting spirit – just as she did when she competed on the UIW women’s tennis team – has proved doctors wrong.
While lying in her hospital bed one day, she suddenly announced to those present that she was going to climb the Seven Summits, known as the highest mountains on the seven continents. “The nurse just rolled her eyes at me,” she said.
To date, Mangum has made the physically and mentally challenging, and sometimes treacherous trek to the top of Mount Kilimanjaro in Africa in 2007, Mount Kosciuszko in Australia in 2010 and the latest, Mount Aconcagua in Argentina in January.
“It’s the hardest thing I’ve ever had to do outside of my recovery,” Mangum said. “It not only shocks your system internally, but externally as well. But it’s really rewarding.”
Those glorious rewards, which offer stunning views of the world just beneath her feet, however, do not come without hours of toil and sweat in preparation for an average three-week climb. For her latest trek, for instance, Mangum focused on building her endurance by wearing a weighted vest or a back pack weighing 45 pounds, and ran up and down the Rocky Mountains near her home in Boulder, Colo. until her lungs and legs refused to cooperate.
In mid-January, Mangum left the comfort of her home, as well as her husband, Robert, and dog, Simple, for her trip to Mendoza, Argentina where she met company tour guides and seven fellow climbers for their 17-day climb up and down Mount Aconcagua.
Along the way, Mangum and the rest of the party endured freezing, cold temperatures, eight-foot deep snow that at times halted their progress, and extreme, high winds. “The worst part is when it’s freezing, and you have to go to the bathroom in the middle of the night,” she said.
Mangum also had to constantly monitor her breathing and heart rate to avoid altitude sickness. “The higher you go in altitude your body starts to slow down,” she said.
And then there was the bland tasting food that didn’t do much for her already waning appetite the higher she climbed because of the effects on her body. Meals consisted of powdered mashed potatoes with wieners and cheese, oatmeal and cereal, among others.
Despite the physical hardships and harsh weather conditions, reaching the summit of any mountain is pure bliss for Mangum.
“It puts my life into perspective,” she said.
“I feel free like I can do anything. You can’t feel the weight of the world on your shoulders when you’re on top of it even though you’re tired and exhausted.”
For Roger and Amelia Mangum, their daughter’s decision to tackle each mountain brings mixed emotions.
“As parents, we support her 100 percent and do whatever we can to encourage her,” Roger said. “But on the flip side, there’s that concern for her safety and well-being when she takes on an endeavor like that…I know God protects her, and we’re grateful that she comes back to us every time.”
Because she has climbed thousands and thousands of feet into the clouds, it’s safe to assume Mangum is not afraid of heights.
“No, not all,” she said. “I’m afraid of falling. The scariest part is when you reach the halfway point of a mountain and realize there’s no turning back unless you’re ill.”
Although Mangum’s treks are part of her personal mission, they also serve to fulfill a desire to assist local charities in the towns or villages where her mountain hikes begin. While in Argentina, Mangum solicited donations via online to help support a local orphanage, Quinta Betel.
Today, Mangum remains busy as a therapist at a mental health center in Boulder with a case load of 40 patients who suffer from schizophrenia and bipolar disorders. But already she’s planning her return to Mount Aconcagua on Nov. 24 because the party fell 300 vertical feet short of reaching the summit when severe weather conditions forced the climbers to turn back. Then she plans to tackle the highest peak in Europe, Mount Elbrus in Russia, in the summer of 2014.
Mangum’s story of survival and determination to achieve her life goal has had a positive effect on many who know her, including close friend, Andrea Prieto ’10 MS, who made the trek to Mount Kilimanjaro with her in 2007.
“The way Samantha lives her life reminds me to always make the ordinary, extraordinary,” Prieto said. “Her climbs are inspirational and have served as a platform to bring charity to com- munities around the world while still realizing dreams of her own. I’ll continue to support her each time she finds herself above the clouds.”
Finally, one is curious to know what Mangum does as soon as she comes off a mountain.
“The first thing I do is take a shower because sometimes you don’t take a shower for 17 days,” she said. “Then I have a great, big hamburger.”
See page 2 for additional photos.