Written by: Haley Goodman, CMC ’17. Haley is a New York native, majoring in International Relations at Claremont McKenna College. She is currently serving as a Kravis Prize Intern at Helen Keller International. She is the International Editor for the student paper the CMC Forum. Some of her other interests include security studies, developmental politics, technology, writing, and the outdoors.


In honor of Helen Keller International’s 100th Anniversary, a team from HKI will participate in the END Fund’s Summit to See the END, hiking Mount Kilimanjaro in Tanzania. Kilimanjaro or Kili, as it’s informally known, is the highest mountain in Africa and one of the 7 Summits. Members of the HKI team include Kathy Spahn (HKI’s President and CEO), Dick Sandhaus (Kathy’s husband), Henry Barkhorn (HKI Board Member), Randy Belcher (HKI Board Member), and Rico.

I sat down with Kathy to discuss her upcoming climb. This is the first of a two-part interview; I’ll chat with Kathy again after her climb.

Climbing Kilimanjaro is a great feat; aside from doing something grand for HKI’s Centennial Anniversary, what motivated you to undertake this climb?
My husband and I are both avid hikers —we love challenging day hikes. Kili was always on our bucket list. I’ve flown over and driven near Kili, so I’ve been exposed to it quite a bit. I then became friendly with someone from the END Fund who just climbed Kili. When she described her climb, I thought: “Wow, that sounds achievable.” So then, I talked to my husband about the climb, and we decided to embark on this climb.

What do you foresee as the biggest challenge to climbing Kili?
Altitude. The prep I’m doing is walking on the treadmill on an incline with weights in my backpack, so I’m in physical shape for the climb. However, it’s hard to prep for altitude. There’s no predictor for how you’ll fare with the altitude. I have a tendency to push through and keep going, so with the altitude, I may have to slow down and take it easy.

Have you done any big altitude climbs like this before?
No, nothing like this. I’ve trekked in Pokhara [Nepal], which was at a high altitude at around 14,000 ft. Similarly, I’ve hiked in Telluride and done Half Dome in Yosemite, which were physically challenging, but I did not have difficulty with the altitude.

During your tenure at HKI, have you done any other big projects or quests to promote HKI?
This is the first time I’ve done something personal, reaching out to my own network to undertake a goal to promote HKI.

In my experiences climbing, hiking, and mountaineering, it is customary for someone to leave a token or personal item at the summit, do you have a token you’re leaving at the top? If not, if you could choose a token, what would it be?
I actually have not thought about this until you suggested it; I have decided that I would like to leave one of our rare Helen Keller quarters right up on top. This might be of particular interest as there are discussions now under way about putting a woman on the ten dollar bill – especially since Helen Keller’s name has come up in that regard.

What connection do you see between your summit of Kili both personally and your work as President and CEO of HKI?
They’re both about striving and reaching new heights — both figuratively and literally — to  surmount challenges and grow. Both HKI and the climbing Kili involve reaching to do more, require both grit and determination, and use team efforts. I could not do it without my two teams [HKI and Kili]. To quote the somewhat overused Helen Keller quote “Alone we can do so little; together we can do so much.”

The climb will commence July 11 and finish on July 19. Kathy and her team will be taking the Machame route to the summit and will reach the summit on July 17. Dick will be taking pictures along the way, which will be posted with the second part of this interview post-climb. 

To learn more and support Kathy and Team HKI: https://www.razoo.com/story/Hki-Kilimanjaro