Everest climber motivated by more than a personal dream
Shriya Shah-Klorfine wanted to be a role model for children with goals
Like many Canadians, I was shocked by the news that a Canadian had died during an attempt to scale Mount Everest earlier this month.
The shock was compounded when I learned that it was 33-year-old Shriya Shah-Klorfine from Mississauga, Ont., who had succumbed on the mountain. She was someone I'd had the pleasure of meeting on a few occasions.
She had actually invited me to one of her fundraisers for the Everest climb and I remember thinking, "Why would anyone want to do this?"
But Shriya's reasoning to attempt Everest — like so many of the things that appeared to motivate her — was a mix of the personal and the public, something that has often been lost in many of the stories I've read about her in recent days.
In an interview she did with OMNI TV, just a few days before she left for her expedition, Shriya set out some of her personal goals, revealing that when she was nine, she saw Everest's summit during a helicopter ride with her parents.
She asked her parents then why they weren't climbing the mountain, and they explained that it was very difficult to do. That was when the little girl told her father that she was one day going to climb Mount Everest. It was the start of a lifelong dream.
But with this dream also came another goal. She had hoped to be the fourth woman, and the first South Asian woman from Canada, to reach the peak, and not just for her own gratification.
She spoke about visualizing herself at the top of the mountain and the pride of hoisting the Canadian flag at the mountain top, for her new home that she loved so much.
Shriya was born in Nepal, in Kathmandu. She grew up in Mumbai, India, and saw the world by working on cruise ships before moving to Canada to be with her husband.
This country gave her tremendous opportunities and that was something she never forgot.
She started a successful import business. She was active in women's organizations, children's groups and, more recently, became a political advocate as a business woman.
Last year, she was a candidate in the Ontario election in Mississauga East-Cooksville for the Paramount Canadians Party, a new fringe party with a pro-family, pro-immigration bent.
Climbed for Canada
Very little of this has been reported over the last 10 days in the coverage of Shriya's death. Most reports simply said she was a Canadian woman, and that's it. In some she wasn't even that.
When NBC's Today Show covered this story, the hosts referred to her repeatedly as a Nepalese woman. A careless omission of the fact that she was a Canadian citizen and was taking on this challenge, as she saw it, for her new country.
Shriya had hoped to use her expedition to raise funds for Toronto's Hospital for Sick Children.
Unfortunately she didn't raise enough money. In fact she incurred a huge debt to make the trek and had to mortgage her home to pay for it.
"It was her lifelong dream" to reach the summit of the world's tallest peak, says Shelly Siddoo, Shriya's best friend, and the last of her friends and family to speak to her.
Siddoo says they spoke regularly during Shriya's 18-day trek. Shriya told her that she was going to take the lessons from Everest and use them to become a motivational speaker at schools.
"She had big plans," Siddoo says. She wanted to use her experience to tell children to go after their dreams, to work hard, to be disciplined, to live life to the fullest.
Full of promise
In one of their conversations, after a particularly hard day of climbing for Shriya, when her knee was hurting her, Siddoo expressed her concerns to her friend. But Shriya told her that "in life we face many mountains, and just remember that you have to take one step at a time."
In this case, Shriya did make it to the top one step at a time. She did fulfil her dream.
She died on her descent, because she ran out of oxygen and collapsed from exhaustion.
Ten people have died on Everest just this season alone, and some mountaineering experts have described Shriya as a victim of "climber congestion" — too many climbers on the trek at the same time.
Take a look at the pictures of the climber congestion that have been circulating this week — the hundreds of climbers all in a row — as though waiting in line for a ride at Canada's Wonderland.
Many of these people walked past Shriya's body, and you have to wonder what went through their minds.
Shriya lived her life fearlessly and with passion, something I saw at our first meeting.
She contacted me last year when my father was in hospital battling cancer. She sent me a kind note saying that while we didn't know each other, she wanted to extend a few words of comfort and, if we didn't mind, she'd like to come meet my father and me.
She came, and we were trying to size her up. What did this woman want?
But she didn't want anything. She just wanted to reach out to people, whom she only knew from an online presence, in our moment of weakness and confusion.
She spent a Sunday afternoon in the hospital room talking to us about Nepal, local and international politics, her passion for Canada and her desire to help make this a better country.
This is who she was, a young woman of the world, full of life, full of promise.