By Barb Brouwer
It was a life-changing trek that has the power to change many more lives.
Last month, Tina Cosman joined 119 other adventurous Royal LePage realtors from across Canada in the company’s Shelter Foundation Ecuador Challenge.
The five-day challenge was up to the base of Ecuador’s Mt. Cotopaxi, an active strato-volcano in the Andes Mountains about 50 kilometres south of Quito. This is the fifth in the foundation’s successful fundraising treks that included the Purcell Mountains, Sahara Desert, Iceland and Machu Picchu, and raised a total of $3 million to support local women’s shelters and domestic violence prevention programs in Canada.
Divided into four groups, participants in the Ecuador Challenge for Shelter raised another $1.7 million, with Cosman raising some $12,000 through her own efforts.
Cosman was advised she had been accepted on the Ecuador challenge on March 27 and began preparing in April by hiking area trails, including several successful Enderby Cliffs jaunts. She also credits her readiness to training with Jason Persaud, owner of Excito Life.
Her adventure began Nov. 14 when she flew to Quito, Ecuador located at 2,850 metres above sea level, compared to Salmon Arm at only 415 metres.
Quito has a population of some 2 million people and only one shelter with 30 beds for women experiencing domestic violence.
“In Ecuador, a woman is killed by domestic violence every 23 hours,” said a sombre Cosman. “In Canada that’s every six days.”
Trekkers had three days to acclimate to the high altitude and explore the beautiful city located on the equator.
On Nov. 18 and part of the fourth group to depart, participants were driven about one hour from Quito to begin the uphill trek.
Cosman’s group of 28 members plus guide crew and a doctor hiked approximately 15 kilometres to their base camp where tents provided accommodation and a chef had prepared dinner.
Day 2 dawned early with the wake-up call of a flute and a “western style breakfast with an Ecuadorian twist.” The hike began by 8 a.m. and ended with everyone returning to the campsite drenched from an afternoon rain storm.
Cosman, the third oldest to join the challenge, said the second day was probably the hardest of the five-day trek that wound its way through grasslands, tropical forests and rock-strewn slopes.
“Every day during on our lunch break we read a letter written by a survivor of domestic violence or a witness to it, the impact on them and their families, their future and how shelters played a pivotal role,” she said, noting everyone on the challenge had been touched by domestic violence in some way, including two women on the trek who were survivors. “The letters were very moving and we talked about the cycle of abuse.”
A day of fun followed, with rough terrain that posed several obstacles, using ropes, and enjoying lunch at a lovely waterfall.
“The weather, for the most part, was amazing,” said Cosman for whom the day of fun could have had a tragic end.
She was making her way along a very narrow ledge high above a river valley when the rope she was hanging onto stretched, allowing her to fall backwards. Luckily guides were able to quickly grab the rope and pull her back. Relieved, she resumed her journey along the ledge without further incident.
Although participants hiked some 15 to 20 km over eight to 10 hours every day, few medical issues plagued the group. One woman fainted as the group summited the 4,200-metre Mt. Pasachoa, an extinct volcano located in the Guayllabamba River basin. A few others suffered sunburns and twisted knees and ankles. Blisters were a common complaint but not for Cosman, who had put 100 km on her hiking boots before leaving the Shuswap.
Intermittent rain on the fourth day could not dampen the spirits of the trekkers, who worked together, supported one another and helped in any way they could.
“It was the positive energy and encouraging words of the group that kept us all going,” Cosman said, pointing out there were mixed feelings as the adventure neared completion and trekkers looked forward to hot showers and an end to toileting in the wild. “There was not a single best part; there was seeing beautiful Ecuador and being able to complete the trek with an incredible group of people.”
Before the adventure, Cosman knew only one other person, a Kelowna realtor. By the end of the challenge, she had made fast friends with several more members of a diverse but amazing group whose participants ranged in age from late 20s to mid-to-late 60s.
“There was a lot of time to walk and talk,” she said of the new friends who continue to connect with each other. “Imagine realtors without cell phones, we’re always connected to them.”
Connections remain and several members of Cosman’s group are discussing the possibility of a reunion hike at the Royal LePage conference in Calgary next September.
Eighty per cent of what Cosman raised will go to the local SAFE Society for the Salmon Arm women’s shelter.
Since its founding in 1998, the foundation has grown to become the largest public foundation in Canada dedicated exclusively to funding women’s shelters and domestic violence prevention.
Still processing her remarkable adventure, Cosman said she would do another challenge in a heartbeat and is very appreciative of the many people who supported her effort by training with her on local trails and donating beyond her $10,000 goal.
To learn more about the SAFE Society, go online to safe society.ca.
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