College sophomore overcomes health barriers to climb Mount Kilimanjaro, with her sights set on all Seven Summits
Compiled by Nicole Davis
Sneha Dave has always been fascinated by stories about mountaineering. But for some time, a chronic health condition made scaling even a few flights of stairs nearly impossible.
That obstacle didn’t keep Dave from her dream of climbing the Seven Summits, the highest peak in each of the seven continents. At the end of 2017, she made the first step, reaching Mount Kilimanjaro at 19,341 feet in Tanzania, Africa.
A sophomore at Indiana University, Dave has advocated for youth with chronic illnesses since her time at Center Grove High School. She was diagnosed with the ulcerative colitis, an inflammatory bowel disease, at age 6. The condition flared up in middle school, which necessitated five years of partial schooling while she received treatment at Riley Hospital for Children.
During her junior year of high school, Dave organized a leadership day for teens with chronic conditions to help others transition back to school. She also created Crohn’s & Colitis Teen Times, now titled Crohn’s and Colitis Young Adults Network, a newsletter to support and encourage youth coping with the condition.
At IU, Dave began advocating on a larger scale. She works with the advisory board for Pfizer pharmaceutical company to bridge the patient-pharmaceutical gap. This position has led to speaking opportunities across the U.S. She’s advocated at United Nations summits, speaking about the third Sustainable Development Goal to ensure “healthy lives and (promote) the well-being for all at all ages,” according to un.org.
Personally, Dave enjoys hiking with her family and otherwise spending time outdoors. Last December, they embarked on their biggest adventure yet, with a goal to reach Kilimanjaro’s summit.
“It’s definitely the hardest climb we’ve done,” she said. “Usually when we’ve done altitude, it’s not 19,000 feet. Fifteen is the highest we’d done.”
The family — including Sneha and her dad, mother and older sister — departed on Dec. 19 and began the climb on Dec. 21. All but Dave’s mother summitted on Dec. 25.
“It is definitely very mentally challenging,” Dave said. “I had to train a lot more than my dad and the rest of my family. I had undergone a lot this past year, which made my bones a lot weaker. The whole process of being able to do constant uphill with little oxygen was new to me.”
Dave even passed out from dehydration while she was brushing her teeth, but she pushed her way to the peak. The group took it a little easier that day.
“I feel great,” she said. “The top was anticlimatic. You have such little oxygen you just want to get down. The wind is so hard that if you stay for too long you’ll get a rash on your face. It was amazing when I got down, and the next day was amazing, too. The actual summit was very uncomfortable.”
Dave’s not done yet. She has her sights set next on 18-510-foot-tall Mount Elbrus in Russia, then Mount Aconcagua, at 22,837 feet, in Argentina. She’ll keep going until she’s pursued all seven.
“The biggest thing I’ve taken away is I definitely want to climb more mountains,” Dave said. “I just really enjoyed it. (It’s) a huge confidence boost being able to do something that is difficult with a chronic condition, although I want to detach Kilimanjaro from me having ulcerative colitis because it’s such a personal thing for me. I think anyone can do it.”
Dave shared about her experience with Riley Hospital for Children at rileykids.org/stories/blog/everything-is-possible-a.html#.WmIFB66nGpo.
Here, learn more about our March ICON of the Month, Sneha Dave.
What do you consider your greatest virtue?
Simple and honest living.
What is most upsetting to you?
Some people don’t believe in climate change or preserving the environment, yet they enjoy hiking. There would be little or no hiking or enjoying nature, obviously, without preservation.
What do you like most about living in Center Grove?
I have lived in Center Grove for a few years now, so I love coming back from college and remembering the old days!
If you had to live anywhere else in the Metro Indianapolis area, where would it be?
The arts district in Indianapolis.
If you could begin life over, what would you change?
I would live near the mountains or a place where there are lots of opportunities to be in nature.
If money were no issue, how would you spend it?
I would either buy a yacht or an RV. I love boats and have had some awesome experiences RVing in Alaska and California. Other than that, I probably wouldn’t spend much besides on food!
What makes you happiest?
I love to be around mountains and just hiking in general. I have always loved the wilderness.
What is your favorite vacation spot?
What do you do with idle time?
I like to read, hike and rock climb.
What would you change about our culture if you could?
We live in an incredibly materialistic society, and I wish we could practice minimalism. I think it is important to put the environment first, because we only have one! It is disappointing to see negligence toward the environment, however, I believe it is something everyone can pay attention to more.
How do you escape from reality?
I either read or go to nature.
What do you love most in life?
The greatest loves of my life besides my family are reading and spending time in nature.
Which living person in Center Grove do you most admire?
As cheesy as it sounds, it would by far be my mom. She is absolutely the funniest and most compassionate human I have met and I could not live without her.
What quality do you like most in a man?
I would like to make sure any man has basic feminist values.
What quality do you like most in a woman?
I like most when women speak their mind and are confident in whatever they pursue. Also, I think it is important that we stop doubting ourselves!
What is your greatest extravagance?
The amount I spend at coffee shops.
What are your fears/phobias?
As ironic as it is, I am slightly afraid of heights.
What has been the happiest time of your life?
Hiking and climbing with my family. My happiest times have been with family in nature and most recently during our climb to Mount Kilimanjaro.
Which talent would you most like to possess?
I would like to possess the talents of Alex Honnold, arguably one of the greatest climbers to have ever existed.
What do you most value in your friends?
People who are honest, passionate and driven to be better.
Which historical figure do you most admire?
Tom Wicker, a New York Times journalist who was an observer during the Attica prison uprising of 1971. I believe we often place emphasis on the work of politicians, but without people like Tom Wicker, who genuinely stood up for human rights domestically, it would be a more unjust world.
What is your greatest regret?
Every challenge is just a part of learning and growing, and for this reason I don’t regret anything.
What tenet do you live by?
I believe strongly in stoicism.
“Very little is needed to make a happy life; it is all within yourself, in your way of thinking.” —Marcus Antonius Aurelius