It’s seven down and none to go for Jeanne M. Stawiecki.
Ms. Stawiecki, 56, climbed Mount Everest on May 22.
The accomplishment also completed a mammoth to-do list: She has now climbed the highest peaks and run marathons on each of the seven continents, making her, unofficially, the first woman in the world to do so.
Ms. Stawiecki, a nurse anesthetist at UMass Memorial Medical Center — Memorial Campus, Worcester, had tried to climb Mount Everest twice before, in 2004 and 2005.
A medical condition, vocal cord dysfunction, caused her breathing difficulties and necessitated evacuations from Mount Everest. She said working with a speech pathologist helped her change her breathing and successfully return to exercise without problems.
The condition could have ended her involvement in athletics, said Dr. Mark Nawrocki, a former Memorial colleague whom Ms. Stawiecki credits for piquing her interest in climbing.
“At the risk of her being angry, her age is naturally another aspect,” Dr. Nawrocki said. “Fifty-six and cruising in the Himalaya? Too cool.”
Ms. Stawiecki, who took helicopters into the Himalayas to begin the trek on April 2, returned safely with all of her fellow climbers. They were led by mountain guides of Alpine Ascents International and their Sherpa.
Others weren’t so fortunate. On the way up she saw the bodies of five climbers come down at separate times of the climb, she said in an interview last week.
A big scare came when she tripped at a point of the mountain known as the Hillary Step; she found herself slinging 7,000 feet over Nepal.
With one-third the oxygen level of sea level, Ms. Stawiecki said, there were times she felt as if she had had a few martinis.
“It’s so hypoxic, and this is the time when you’re supposed to be thinking and paying attention,” she said.
The heat was also unrelenting. “It was like 105 degrees climbing during the day, because of all the radiant heat. … It just zaps your strength,” she said.
Ms. Stawiecki said her training regimen included running on a treadmill at home for three hours, without watching TV or listening to music. She would often work out to exhaustion, and yet continue for another hour. Both were to build mental toughness for Mount Everest.
She was sponsored by Colorado High Altitude Training, which provided her with a machine attached to a mask that “would suck oxygen out of the air and simulate high altitude.”
William A. Sowka, a colleague at Memorial and “a jealous observer,” said he remembers just a few years ago Ms. Stawiecki saying, “Hey, let’s go to the rock wall and give it a shot.”
“We’ve all watched Jeanne take off from marathons, all the way up to just beginning climbing, to accomplishing what’s she’s done now,” Mr. Sowka said. “It’s just been an amazing thing to sit back and watch.”
Ms. Stawiecki also credits her job for allowing the flexibility to accomplish such daunting physical challenges.
Mr. Sowka said it often gets lost that Ms. Stawiecki takes the same dedicated approach to her 40-hour-a-week job. It is also physically and mentally demanding and entails weekend duties.
Ms. Stawiecki’s first-ever climbs were four volcanoes in Ecuador in 2001. Her first climb of one of the seven summits was Russia’s Mount Elbrus the following year. She had found inspiration from reading “Seven Summits: The Quest to Reach the Highest Point on Every Continent,” by businessman Dick Bass.
But she isn’t completely done with running. She’s accepted an invitation from Runner’s World to participate in the New York City Marathon on Nov. 4.
Ms. Stawiecki said she is one of only about 30 women to have climbed the seven summits.
“The one take-home message is that you don’t give up when things go bad,” said Ms. Stawiecki, who plans to write a book about what motivated her.