New York, 11/18/2011
November’s chilly night air was offset by mounting anticipation at Global Foundation for Democracy and Development’s (GFDD) amd Fundación Global Democracia y Desarrollo (FUNGLODE), 4th Dominican Get-Together in the Big Apple. The audience would be hearing from people who had literally been at the top of the world, a feat that many of us could not even fathom and only a mere handful (less than 300) have ever accomplished. And yet, here were Dominicans Karim Mella and Federico Jovine, part of the Excelsior Group that scaled Mount Everest just earlier this year, humble, "regular" guys with a clear message that anyone could do it if they put their mind to it.
The event, which took place at Columbia University’s Faculty House Skyline Dining Room to bring the first Dominicans to conquer Everest to New York and moderated by Directors of GFDD’s DC and NY office, Asuncion Sanz and Yamile Eusebio, held the audience in awe as they watched footage and photos, animated by anecdotes and revelations, of the unique story unfolding. By the end, most felt like they had themselves been on the journey, relishing the last and most poignant shot the mountaineers shared with them: a rare view of the curvature of the world.
Mountaineering may not be as synonymous with the Dominican Republicas baseball, salsa and merengue, but last May, the arrival of the Dominican trio of Karim Mella, Ivan Gómez and Federico Jovine towards the summit of the world’s highest mountain was a great step toward changing that. It is feats like this one, forays into the untraditional, and prestige on the international scale, that have really brought the island nation to the forefront of many of the world’s fields. Karim Mella recalled seeing the sun rise at 4:18 a.m. on the day he would reach the summit and not only accomplish his personal dream of 30 years, but claim victory for his homeland and all Dominicans. In his words, the Dominican Republic “had never been so high.”
Yet reaching the summit of one of the most inhospitable places on earth, where many hopeful climbers have tragically lost their lives over the years, did not happen overnight. Months of arduous preparation and grueling training at the Dominican Republic’s highest peak, Pico Duarte, preceded the climb up Mount Everest as part of the team’s project to attempt seven of the world’s highest mountains since 2004. The mountaineers spent a month’s training at the three camps at Mount Everest to acclimatize their bodies to extreme conditions. During this time the mountaineers endured sub-zero temperatures, flu, bronchitis, altitude sickness and frost bite, all in order to be the first team of climbers to proudly hoist the Dominican flag 8,848 meters above sea level on behalf of their compatriots. As teenagers, the charming, witty, and amazingly down-to-earth trio hardly set out to scale Everest, which at 29,000 ft is the world’s highest point, but started in their own backyard of the Dominican Republic. Regular climbs at Pico Duarte gradually led to aspirations in the wider world. They climbed Mount Kilimanjaro in Tanzania, Africa’s highest mountain at 19,341 feet in 2005, Aconcagua in Argentina, the highest mountain in the Americas at 22,841 feet in 2006, and Mount Elbrus, the highest peak in the Russian Caucasus at 18,510 feet in 2009.
Each successful climb saw the mountaineers rapidly gain credibility and sponsorships, which paved the way for more challenges. A climb like Everest costs about hundreds of thousands of dollars and requires months of physical and mental preparation, plus the assistance of 125 sherpas, without whose help the journey could be fatal. Even after Everest, the team has not lost its fighting spirit, with Mella sharing that he now saw Mount K2 in his “crosshairs.”
The audience was visibly taken with the climbers, but they insisted on putting the victory in perspective, emphasizing that their success was only a reflection of the great potential of the Dominican Republic. “It’s a small country with big people,” as they put it, seemed indeed true after this intrepid expedition, one that is sure to inspire Dominicans to challenge themselves and reminded us all that literally nothing is beyond reach.
About the Dominican Get-togethers
The Dominican Get-Togethers program, which are regular gatherings within the Dominican community. The purpose of the gatherings is to create discussion around a Dominican film or topic of relevance to the country or the community, and to mingle with Dominican personalities. These Get-Togethers are organized primarily in the New York City metropolitan area and will include other areas with large Dominican communities throughout the U.S. in the future.