Sunshine Coast dad-of-two Lee arrived at the base of Mt Everest on May 28, but he wasn’t there to scale the world’s highest mountain.
He was there to take on the most challenging 42km marathon of his life – the Everest Marathon which has been termed the ‘highest and toughest’ marathon in the world.
A feat which sees around 50 athletes from across the globe compete annually as they run from a starting point of 5364m above sea level.
“I remember the moment flying into Singapore on my way to Nepal and my TV screen showing we were at 5000m. I was looking out the window and thinking ‘this is crazy’,” Lee recalls.
Lee is one of only two Aussies to make it to base camp for this year’s marathon – an 10 or 11 day trek before the marathon crisscrossing the Sherpa trails of the Khumbu Valley even begins.
“The walk to Everest (or Sagarmāthā in Nepalese) is a pilgrimage, I definitely underestimated the lack of protein, fresh veg and sometimes just the boredom of one foot in front of the other hour after hour.”
While Lee says the pilgrimage was not technical climbing, it did present dangers such as altitude sickness, wild weather, and hazards from avalanches and the Khumbu Icefall.
The distance was something Lee had been practising for.
He was running marathon distances each week in the lead up to his trip in May, however the altitude sickness was an element the 51-year-old was unable to train for.
“The acclimatation was a challenge, even moving in your sleep at night was following by 30 seconds of deep gasps because of the low oxygen levels,” he says.
But it was the ‘story’ behind the run which continued to inspire Lee daily.
As a Sunshine Coast nursing director, Lee teamed up with hospital charity Wishlist to raise funds for an innovative new program for patients receiving hospital treatment.
“So far, we have raised just over $1700 to purchase distraction therapy equipment for people with dementia and delirium.
“Wishlist made it so easy to raise funds for this project and I think it’s good to be able to pay back where I can.”
The cause kept Lee going on his gruelling 8 hours and 30 minute race down Mt Everest.
“I just kept telling myself ‘a challenge is easy’, and the fact I was doing something a little different helped me too.
“The marathon definitely had its ups and downs but looking back, it wasn’t too hard overall.
“For me, running any distance in a series of sections 2-3 metres in length – running with an intense focus on that short distance in front of you – brings me a degree of calmness and clarity.”
To add to his already impressive achievement, Lee finished in the top half of the runners on the day.
He says the Nepalese people will be one of the lasting memories of his trip.
“The Nepalese guides and Sherpas were wonderful, kind, humble people… They would literally put you on their back if they could.
“Mt Everest is a picturesque place, but it can also be unforgiving.
“After the run, we walked to Lukla to fly back to Kathmandu and this was the day 19 people died taking off the Lukla – a reminder that a beautiful place is also very dangerous.”
Lee is now safely back on the Sunshine Coast with his two daughters and wife – who also a nurse and relieved to have her husband home in Buderim.
It’s not too late to support Lee’s marathon effort to support patients with dementia.