Stephan Alheim wears a mask that helps him prepare for the high altitudes during his climb of Mount Kilimanjaro. (Photos by Steve Metsch)
Lyons man is climbing Mount Kilimanjaro
By Steve Metsch
While you’re reading this story, Lyons resident Stephan Alheim will be busy climbing the tallest mountain in Africa.
Alheim is one of 10 adventurers who this week are climbing to the top of Mount Kilimanjaro, which is 19,341 feet tall.
They started climbing Jan. 23 and are expected to reach the top on Jan. 30.
Not only is Kilimanjaro the tallest mountain in Africa, it is also the tallest free-standing mountain in the world, he said. That means it is not part of a mountain range like Mount Everest in the Himalayan Mountains.
A lifelong fitness buff, Alheim has his own company, Trainer Alheim, that focuses on helping people get in shape. Lyons Mayor Christopher Getty is among his clients.
And while Alheim is focused on being in shape – he does not look 47 years old – he has never before dared to climb a mountain.
“I’m into challenging myself,” he said. “From a business standpoint, I can say, ‘I climbed a mountain. I can train you to climb one, too’.”
Alheim grew up in Oak Lawn. He and wife Mary, a school teacher in Oak Park, have lived in Lyons since 2003.
“My brother got me working out when I was 15 and I always enjoyed it,” he said.
“I was in IT for 20 years. When my dad (Peter Alheim) suddenly passed (in 2015), made me realize life is so short, you should do what you love,” he said.
So, three and one-half years ago he left his job as an IT manager for Advocated Health Care, started Trainer Alheim “and never looked back.”
And now he’s looking up on one of the world’s most famous mountains. Alheim flew to Tanzania from Chicago on Jan. 21 and joined the group he is climbing with.
The idea was hatched after he met architect Shabbir Chandabhai through a business networking group, and offered him a training session.
“We were chatting. He said he likes to stay in shape and climb mountains. He runs an expedition every year climbing Kilimanjaro,” Alheim said. “That’s how I jumped onboard.”
The group trained a bit by climbing the steep stairs at Swallow Cliff, Alheim said.
Chandabhai sets up the climb working with a Tanzanian company that provides experienced porters who will help the novices climb safely.
Alheim said he’s not worried even after “one of my clients is from South Africa and he called it ‘Mount Kill a Man Quickly’ with altitude sickness and stuff.”
“One year, a man got about 2,000 feet from the top and started to pass out. They had to take him down the mountain,” Alheim said.
High altitude can result in less oxygen in your blood, which potentially is fatal. Guides and porters now bring oxygen tanks with them, he said.
Alheim teaches a breathing class, is a certified breathing instructor and has been working on his own breathing.
“You try to breathe in for five seconds, out for five seconds because each breath is going to bring in more oxygen when you breathe slow like that,” he said. “I taught the group that in our training session (on Jan. 16) at Swallow Cliff.”
He tapes shut his mouth at each workout to force him to breathe through his nose, or sometimes wears a mask to simulate altitude training that limits the amount of air the wearer takes in.
“Theoretically, it simulates altitude. You have to breathe through your nose and you have to breathe low and deep,” he said.
“Physically, I’m totally ready,” he said. “But I’m one of the worst breathers. I’m interested if this will be a challenge for me or a walk in a park.”
“It is dangerous. One guy (I talked with) said he went around the corner to go to the bathroom and a guide said, ‘Don’t go any further, it starts sloping down and drops off’’.”
Alheim also plans to go on a safari and do some sight-seeing during his 16 days in Africa.
“Since I started my business, it’s my first vacation longer than a weekend.”
“I’m super excited. My wife recently said, ‘You know, people die on that mountain. You should make sure I have all the passwords to your accounts. Maybe I should beef up the (life) insurance’,” Alheim said with a laugh.
Getty, who has known Alheim for about 18 years, said Alheim has led fitness classes through the Village of Lyons Parks and Recreation Department.
Getty, who arranged a police escort to the airport, has no doubt Alheim will succeed.
“I have been nothing but impressed by his skill, knowledge, and abilities as an expert in health and fitness,” Getty said.
“Steve takes his profession of health and fitness more serious than anyone I have ever met,” Getty said. “Additionally, he is not afraid to put his words to action and him taking on Mt. Kilimanjaro is a clear example of that.”
Alheim is due home Feb. 6.
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