Lifelong friends trying to pay it forward with Mount Kilimanjaro climb

Friends from Livonia, Traverse City raising money for children charities with bucket list climb

DETROIT - Two lifelong friends are embarking on a life-changing adventure, hoping to pay it forward by 'klimbing for causes' at the same time.

"You just get to go around once, so every day counts," said Renae Johnson.

Patti Nicklowitz of Livonia and Renae Johnson of Traverse City have been friends for twenty years.  The two women both work for Cisco Systems.

As friends, the two have experienced many of life's ups and downs including when Johnson was diagnosed with breast cancer five years ago.

"I was diagnosed, my dad was actually battling bone cancer and so I was with him and got the call that I had a mammogram that I had to get redone, so I really didn't think it was anything," said Johnson. "While I was with him in chemo, I got the call and my surgeon was like 'I'm really sorry.'"

Surviving breast cancer has changed Johnson's outlook on life.

"In October I was five years cancer free and that's a big deal, you're fired from the oncologist, and I read a quote that said 'Are you doing something with your life or are you living despite yourself?' And I was kind of going back through that and I thought well yeah I have goals for every, the kids, and work and work at  but I didn't really have that big thing that I want to do," said Johnson.

To celebrate reaching the five-year cancer-free milestone, Johnson decided to add something big to her bucket list; to climb to the top of the tallest freestanding mountain in the world, Mount Kilimanjaro in Tanzania, Africa.

"This is a big fun crazy scary awesome thing," said Johnson.  "Just exciting."

Johnson asked Nicklowitz about climbing the summit with her over a camp fire last summer.  Nicklowitz rose to the challenge.

"This is out of my wheel house, not anything that I dreamed that I would ever take on as a challenge but more than anything excited," said Nicklowitz.

Nicklowitz and Johnson have prepared for months and months to take this journey.

"So the first thing that we had to do, was to make sure we got really good climbing boots.  That's one of the most important things in all of the books that I read, if your feet are not in good condition and are hurting, it's going to make the climb impossible. So we actually chose the exact same boots.  We wear them constantly," said Nicklowitz.

They train in the gym and outside and the training includes wearing heavy back packs and hiking boots.

"I have my boots on working in the house, at the gym on the treadmill, hiking outside in snow shoes," said Nicklowitz.

"We needed to get our backpacks and make sure they were fitted right," said Nicklowitz. "You really need to do a lot of walking and training both indoors and out. On the treadmill, I basically walk with a 20 to 30 pound pack on my back, on a treadmill, on a 15 percent incline."

The two women leave on Sunday to begin their seven-day trek up Mount Kilimanjaro.

"I'm a little bit nervous. there is a lot of physical things that can happen when you're climbing to that type of an altitude that you need to be concerned with, but i feel that i have prepared my body and my mind and everything, you know, for this trip as best i can and I'm just excited to take this journey," said Nicklowitz.

Mount Kilimanjaro is on Tanzania's northern border in Africa. Nearly every person who has reached the Uhuru Peak of the mount has recorded his or her thoughts in a book stored at the top.

"We're prepared as much as we can be prepared, but you don't know how your body will react," said Johnson.

Not only are Nicklowitz and Johnson climbing nearly 20,000 feet with limited oxygen, they are trying to raise money for their favorite charities.

Both women are footing their own bill to climb the mountain, and the see opportunity for 'klimbing for causes.'

Nicklowitz is raising money for Bridgepointe, an organization that started 13 years ago by offering support and friendship to Detroit public schools.  Bridgepointe began as a small group of friends, now it is made up of thousands of volunteers to partner with and help schools in Detroit, Northville, Novi, Canton, Hamtramck, Pinckney and others.

"We're really hoping to make a big difference with some financial contributions to these charities," said Nicklowitz.

Johnson is raising money for St. Jude Children's Research Hospital.  The hospital specializes in finding cures for childhood cancers and other life-threatening diseases.

Raising money for their causes is Nicklowitz and Johnson's way of paying it forward.

"When you can see what could kill you there is no fear anymore," said Johnson. "This is fun, this is going to be great. This is going to be a great, life-changing experience for both of us."

For more information on Nicklowitz and Johnson and to donate to their causes, click here.

Copyright 2013 by All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.