Chelsea freshman embarks on African journey

By EMILY REED

Special to the Reporter

When hearing his father’s proposal to hike Mount Kilimanjaro this summer, Cade Kuykendall was at first only slightly intrigued.

“When my dad first came into my room and asked me if I wanted to climb this mountain, I was not really sure,” said Kuykendall, a 14-year-old entering ninth grade at Chelsea High School. “I didn’t really know much about it, I had no idea what it would entail, and I didn’t even really know where it was.”

Kuykendall’s dad, Bob Kuykendall, organized the trip to raise awareness for organ donation after he donated a kidney to a friend in May 2015.

After several months of training with hikes at Oak Mountain State Park and various places throughout Shelby County, the father and son duo set out for the adventure of a lifetime.

“Nothing really prepares you for the actual climb,” Kuykendall said. “On the first day I didn’t know what to expect, and the first day wasn’t hard at all. The first few days were not bad, but it was the fourth day that became one of the hardest days for me. That is when we got to a higher altitude and I got really sick. I became really weak when hiking, but my dad was alongside me and kept telling me I could continue and to keep going. There were a lot of times I didn’t think I could make it, but you just have to keep reminding yourself that you can. A lot of it is more mental than it is physical.”

It took Kuykendall, the youngest of a group of eight climbers, six days to hike the mountain and two days to climb down.

Mount Kilimanjaro is located in Tanzania, Africa, and is considered the tallest freestanding mountain in the world.

Kuykendall said that once he reached the top, it was a surreal feeling to look out and see an incredible view complete with clouds at eye level.

“It is such an amazing feeling to know you have worked so hard for something and then to finally reach the end,” Kuykendall said. “The best part was definitely making it to the top.”

One of the highlights of the trip for Kuykendall was not just climbing Mount Kilimanjaro but visiting an orphanage in Moshi, Africa.

The hotel where both Kuykendall and his father were staying was located near an orphanage, so the two decided to pack soccer cleats, jerseys and soccer balls to give to the children at the orphanage.

The items were donated from individuals and the Birmingham United Soccer Association (BUSA).

“We took over 80 cleats with us, and we got the chance to visit the orphanage before we started our hike,” Kuykendall said. “There were 37 kids at the orphanage ranging in age from toddlers to kids older than me. We got to tour the orphanage, and then my dad asked if we could get the kids out of their lessons they were having for the day, so they let them out and then we got to give them the soccer cleats. We were able to find a good pair for all of them, and then we got to play a soccer game. Just interacting with them was awesome.”

Kuykendall said he will never forget the time he spent at the orphanage and learning firsthand to not take things for granted.

“We have so much in this country that we should be grateful for,” Kuykendall said. “Seeing how much poverty there is really changes how you feel about life and how much stuff you should be grateful for.”

Kuykendall returned to the states on June 12, and said he is thankful for the experiences he had in Africa, and for his dad encouraging him along the way.

“I am really glad he asked me to do the trip with him,” Kuykendall said. “It was a life-changing experience for sure.”