Given Lei Wang’s petite frame, one would never suspect her to be an avid adventurer who has climbed to the summit of Mount Everest. Wang was born in Jiangsu, grew up in Beijing, and later moved to the US where she lived for 14 years. She earned an MBA from Wharton, but set aside her career in computer programming and asset management to pursue a deeper passion: climbing. Last year, Wang was the first Chinese woman to complete the 7+2 quest: to climb the highest peaks on all seven continents, along with skiing to the North and South Poles. Even after achieving her lofty goals, Wang still climbs – and she hopes that others will be motivated by her achievements to pursue their own dreams. Recently, she visited students at the International Academy of Beijing, recounting details of her exhilarating mountain adventures, revealing what drives her, and explaining how self-motivation is the key to success in any endeavor.
Andrew Jeon, 11, South Korea
How did you feel when climbed up Everest?
Actually when you get to the top, you are only halfway there. Going up is actually easier; going down is harder. So when you get to the top, you can’t jump up and down and say "Oh, let’s celebrate!" You have to think, "I have to get back safely. I have to get down the mountain alive." That’s the hardest part.
Olivia Choi, 11, South Korea
Who inspired you?
In 2004, I was watching a documentary about mountaineering. There was one story about a climber who survived by himself for three days and three nights. He had broken his leg and fallen into a crevasse. He crawled out without food, drink or sleep. I was so inspired by him. I thought, "Wow, he is superhuman! That is so brave."
Ella Um, 11, South Korea
When you climb, what are the biggest problems?
The biggest problem is always cold. Altitude sickness [is another problem]– you have headaches, you want to throw up, you can’t sleep or eat and you may have problems breathing and thinking.
Josh Perrett, 10, UK
Did you see any interesting organisms?
Most of the places I go to are so cold there are no animals, nothing other than the people who climb. There is no life.
Abby Lesh, 11, US
What keeps you motivated when you’re climbing?
I think motivation comes from desire. When you really want to do something, you have all the motivation you need. Motivation comes from yourself.
Katie Wong, 10, Canada
Was there a time when your life was in danger?
When you are climbing a mountain, you are always in danger. You have to be very alert all the time. When you hear noise like thunder, that’s the noise of an avalanche and if an avalanche comes, you cannot run away.
Sharon Baek, 12, South Korea
Why do you climb even though it is dangerous?
In the beginning, I was looking for a challenge. [Now] it’s so beautiful and I really enjoy it. I don’t feel scared. I train really hard, so I know how to handle the situation.
Andy Kim, 11, South Korea
What kind of tools do you use?
Crampons are metal claws under your boots to help you grab the ice. We also use a pickaxe and we attach a rope most of the time. You have to cover yourself fully with proper clothes. For Everest, there is an extra thing: a supplemental oxygen bottle.
Jibeom Kim, 10, South Korea
What kind of food do you eat?
You have to carry everything on your back. So you have [condensed]food in a packet. When you get to the higher parts [of the mountain], you can melt the snow and put water back into the packet; it expands to become food you can eat.
Jeffrey Kang, 11, South Korea
How do you afford to climb?
I had some savings and that’s how I got started. Later on, I started doing fundraising. A lot of friends helped me and I talked to a lot of companies. Some people also gave me loans.
David Sapp, 11, US
Which mountain cost the most to climb?
Mt. Everest. You have to pay USD 40,000 to the guiding company alone. Normally, it costs between USD 30-40,000 to USD 70-80,000. You also have to buy your equipment, flights, insurance and [pay for]training. It’s the most expensive mountain [to climb].
Jack Kang, 11, South Korea
Is it your goal to keep climbing?
When I climb all these mountains, I am so happy and feel I can overcome any problems. I want to climb mountains in the future, so that I can inspire and motivate more people.