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Hampton native first to conquer 7 world summits legally blind

| Thursday, March 29, 2007

The road of life has taken Kevin Cherilla from a quiet neighborhood in Hampton to the top of Mt. Kilimanjaro in Tanzania.

Along the way, the Hampton native, 38, has trekked across more than 20 countries and has helped Erik Weihenmayer become the first legally blind person to conquer the seven summits, the highest peaks on each of the seven continents.

The historic 2001 crusade was captured in the documentary, "Farther Than the Eye Can See," which won several Emmys. Cherilla will return to Mt. Everest on April 11 to lead an expedition up the 29,000-foot mass of rock and ice. The team will climb the north side of Everest in Tibet.

The expedition is expected to last 60 days. The group will reach the summit in May or early June.

Even for an experienced climber, scaling Everest is a risky endeavor because of the potential for avalanches, 125 mph winds, below-freezing temperatures and altitude sickness brought on by low oxygen levels. Since 1921, more than 180 people have died trying to reach the top of the world.

"Believe me, there is still fear, and I will be faced with it on Everest daily," Cherilla said. "I can only prepare myself to the point of 'being ready' by setting my sights on the summit, working hard in order to achieve this lofty goal and surrounding myself with a strong team and leader.

"If I do all of this and stay focused every step of the way, then the fear of death is removed from the equation."

Cherilla began climbing when he was an exercise physiology major at John Carroll University, near Cleveland. While visiting relatives in Oregon one summer, he tackled Mt. Hood, an 11,237-foot peak popular with skiers and hikers. After graduation, he moved to the desert and joined the Arizona Mountaineering Club.

Several years later, he found himself on Mt. Aconcagua, the tallest mountain in the Western Hemisphere. Looking out over the Argentine countryside, he realized that climbing was more than a hobby for him -- it was a way of life.

"I continue to go back in the mountains for many reasons," he said. "The main reason is the overall challenge the mountains bring. I am very goal-oriented and the mountains challenge you more physically and mentally than any other activity ... except, maybe, raising kids."

Cherilla, a physical education teacher and coach at a school in Phoenix, has been conditioning his body since June 2006 to battle Everest. He runs, bikes, swims and hikes with a 40-pound weight vest strapped to his torso. Mental preparation consists of yoga sessions and spending time with his wife, Jennifer, and children, Adam and Lindsey. His family is as integral to his health and safety as any rope or harness, he said.

"This (climb) is a little more difficult for them because they are old enough now to know and understand the consequences mountains can bring upon climbers," Cherilla said.

People can follow Cherilla's progress by logging onto his Web site -- -- where he will post pictures, videos and daily dispatches.

Cherilla said he hopes to use the page as an educational tool.

Cherilla urges prospective mountain climbers to learn from professionals.

"You have to have a passion for it because it could cost you your life if you don't treat it with respect," Cherilla said. "From there, you surround yourself with people you trust and explore the world."

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