Martina Navratilova reaches new heights

“Hey, Martina — You’ve just finished breast cancer treatment, what are you going to do next?”

“I’m climbing Mt. Kilimanjaro!”

Seriously. On Monday, nine-time Wimbledon champ Martina Navratilova began a quest to reach the peak of Africa’s highest mountain to raise money for sports-based projects to help disadvantaged youth.

Johnette Howard of ESPN’s new site for women, espn.W, spoke with Martina as she prepared for the climb, which benefits the Laureus Sport for Good Foundation. She had just returned from the Mathare, one of the largest, worst slums in the world, where she visited the Mathare Youth Soccer Association (MYSA) Laureus sponsors. After playing a quick pickup game with some of the kids and staff, Martina was inspired to go beyond the Kilimanjaro fundraising trip’s original goal of 100,000 Euros.

“I’d like to at least double the original goal now,” she said. “The dollar or euro or pound goes a lot farther in their world than ours.”

Although the poverty in the Mathare is crushing, Martina found its residents inspiring.

“I’ve been to the [Mathare] slum, and it’s depressing and heartening at the same time,” she said. “You see the people coming out of there, walking to work, and they’re all cleaned up and ready to go. The kids have a smile on their face, they just want attention. … The skill level [of the soccer teams] is really just astonishing. It’s so nice to see these kids in this environment where it’s safe and supportive for them while they’re living in total squalor. These kids have nothing. You walk around and the stench is overwhelming, and there’s just stuff everywhere — garbage, trash, human feces.

“I’d like to raise as much money as possible and help these kids, if only in a small way.”

Martina knows that the ascent to the top of Kilimanjaro (19,341 feet!) will be challenging, but she’s confident enough about reaching the top that she packed a tennis racket. She wants to wallop a few balls from the summit to see how far they fly in thin air. And she wants to celebrate the end of a not-so-nice 2010.

“I always appreciated life, but it’s been enhanced,” she said. “I was a tennis player for a long time, but I was always interested in other things, and I always liked to push myself within the tennis world as well as outside. I don’t do crazy stuff where if I fail I die. That doesn’t appeal to me. But I do like to push my boundaries. I had a terrible fear of flying, so I got a pilot’s license. I had a terrible fear of drowning, so I got a scuba license. … That old saying nothing ventured, nothing gained is true. It’s just taking that first step. Then you’re on your way, you’re one step closer. To me, there’s more fear not to confront fear. Because then it always stays with you.”

Spoken like a true champion.

You can follow the climb at Laurerus.com. If you happen to have a few extra dollars this year, take a look at this PSA Martina did for Laureus that explains more about the wonderful work of the foundation and how to donate.

Are you as inspired as I am by this incredible project? Join me in wishing Martina and her team a joyful adventure.

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