Hollis Brookline High School teacher climbs Kilimanjaro to help wounded soldier

HOLLIS – Some people climb mountains because they’re there.

Some climb for fitness and adventure, others to raise money. Then there’s Ann Melim, an English teacher at Hollis Brookline High School, who climbs for all those reasons.

She is about to cross a huge item off her bucket list – climbing Mount Kilimanjaro – and is using the once-in-a-lifetime experience to raise money to build a handicapped-accessible home for her cousin who lost a leg while serving in Afghanistan.

“I’ve been mountaineering since 1997,” Melim said, “and every year, I climb Mount Washington for a charity. This year will be a little bit different.”

She is climbing to raise money for her cousin, Army Spc. Calvin Todd, 25, who lost his left leg below the knee on Oct. 4, 2012. He was seven months into his deployment and four weeks before he was he was scheduled to leave Afghanistan. The medic watched three soldiers get blown up by an improvised explosion device and was wounded when he ran to help them and stepped on another device.

He currently lives in an amputee hotel at Walter Reed National Military Medical Center in Bethesda, Md., with his wife, Alice, and 1-year-old son, who was born just 17 days before the explosion. He met his son for the first time when he returned to the U.S. for surgery.

A graduate of Concord High School, Todd plans on moving back to New Hampshire, but needs a house with special features like wood floors and wide doorways to accommodate his wheelchair.

In November, Todd came home for a visit and participated in a Veterans Day panel at HBHS. His positive attitude was evident to all who met him.

“I got blown up and lost my leg more than a year ago, but I’m pretty much back to normal,” he told the students. “The quicker I accepted things, the quicker I could put it behind me. I didn’t care that I lost my leg, I was mad that I couldn’t get to my buddy who had gotten blown up.”

Still an avid athlete, Todd coaches lacrosse and plays wheelchair lacrosse at Walter Reed. He has just accepted a position to coach varsity lacrosse at Bishop Brady High School, and will also work on earning his master’s degree.

Melim set the goal of climbing Kilimanjaro about seven years ago, but traveling there and paying for a guide is costly. It seemed like there was always a household appliance in need of repairs or replacement that depleted her rainy day account. In addition, she suffered from a severe case of bursitis in her foot that prevented her from training for a year and a half and resulted in a 40 pound weight gain.

Once properly diagnosed, she recovered quickly but said that motivated her to reach for the goal because she had no idea how long she’d remain healthy and able to climb.

“I’ve been putting $50 to $100 aside every month, and when I went to the bank in May and realized that I had almost enough money to go, I was so excited,” Melim said.

To earn the last $1,500, she took a landscaping job over the summer.

Melim said that at first, her husband, who sometimes hikes with her but is more of a marathoner, was not enthusiastic about her plans, but she won him over.

“I told him this was at the top of my bucket list,” she said. “I started training in July and lost more than 40 pounds. The second part is that I am inspired by my cousin. Here I was depressed that my foot was injured and I gained weight, then I looked at him. He gets up every day and plays lacrosse or hockey and doesn’t think of himself as a victim.”

Located in Tanzania, Africa, Kilimanjaro is the highest mountain in the continent, at 19,341 feet in elevation, and is also the tallest free-standing mountain in the world.

Those who fail to summit typically suffer from altitude sickness. To prepare for the trek, Melim works out five times a week at the gym, usually for two hours at a time on the Stairmaster and treadmill. She goes for a longer run of 10-13 miles on the weekend. She said she is anxious about the elevation and oxygen but has to trust the guide’s experience and pacing and that she will get acclimated.

“Winter is my favorite time to hike,” she said. “It is so peaceful and beautiful. I love it.”

Melim leaves on Tuesday, Dec. 17. Following a day for travel and a day for rest, she will begin the six-day climb with a professional guide and the other person in the group, a man from New York. Barring the unexpected, she will reach the summit at sunrise on Christmas Day. The descent takes one day.

She said she is somewhat sad that she will miss celebrating the holiday at home with her 10-year-old daughter, but she doesn’t regret her decision to undertake the challenge and has to planned ahead for some special surprises.

Thanks to the timing, she will miss only three days of school. Although she will not be able to Skype with her classes, she will keep a blog, which she described as primitive. The guide will call his headquarters, and they will email updates to her husband back home.

You can follow her progress on her blog, http://kili4
calvin.wordpress.com
.

Melim’s students have been very supportive of her plans. Last year’s creative writing class witnessed the process of her turning a dream into an achievable goal, and this semester’s students have followed her training and preparations.

“I think Mrs. Melim is one of the best role models on the entire HB staff, because she sets goals for herself and achieves them,” said junior Josh Walker.

“I’m really glad that Mrs. Melim gets to make her dream come true and we are able to see it,” said Kayla Barron.

Donations to the Adapt, Overcome, Live Fund can be mailed to Ann Melim, HBHS, 24 Cavalier Court, Hollis, NH 03049.