These days Sherri Floros spends her free time striding up stairs to her gym, trekking for hours along ski slopes, and imagining the thrill of standing 19,300 feet above sea level.
The Newton resident has only a few weeks before she takes on Mount Kilimanjaro, Africa’s highest peak and her toughest challenge. And the 47-year-old mother of two is determined to make it to the summit.
“I haven’t done anything this challenging, physically or mentally challenging,” said Floros, during a break from her desk job in Boston, “to know that you’ve plowed through something that everything in your mind says you can’t do.”
Climbing Mount Kilimanjaro was not on her bucket list, Floros said, until last spring, when she found out that an African girls school she supports was organizing a trek as a fund-raiser. The Kilimanjaro expedition offered Floros an opportunity to feed her enthusiasm for the school, exercise, and the outdoors.
So after work she hits the gym. On weekends, she’ll take hikes, sometimes with her 13-year-old son encouraging her along. She has passed up ski trips to make sure she doesn’t injure herself, and grew anxious about the spread of flu in recent weeks. And she has read online blogs from other climbers to make sure that she is prepared for the grueling hike and the potential for altitude sickness.
None of this has discouraged her resolve.
“Once you start telling people about it, you’re sunk,” she quipped.
Floros said she has always enjoyed being outdoors, but after her divorce a few years ago, she took a job as a financial consultant in Boston and had less time to exercise. Climbing Kilimanjaro has given her a goal to get back to hiking and the gym, she said.
And it’s for a cause close to her heart. Floros has backed the Sega Girls School in Tanzania since its founding in 2008, and sponsors a student there.
This will be her first visit to Africa.
Aside from the climb, Floros will also see the school, which is about 300 miles south of Kilimanjaro, as part of her trip, scheduled to start Feb. 12.
She is trying to raise $19,341, a number that matches the height of the mountain, for the school.
Floros isn’t the only American resident taking on the challenge for the Sega School. Six other people from across the country are signed up, including a couple from the North Shore, said Laura DeDominicis, a Newton resident and board member of Nurturing Minds, a US-based nonprofit that provides technical assistance to the Sega School.
School officials have been pleased with the participation. But DeDominicis acknowledges that climbing the famed mountain isn’t for everybody. The school partnered with the Peaks Foundation to help the climbers get organized and ensure that they have the best safety information, she said.
“If everything goes well on the ground, we’ll have to talk about doing it again,” DeDominicis said.
The school is trying to raise $250,000 to accompany a $1 million grant from the US Agency for International Development. The money will help pay to build three dormitories, a library and laboratory facility, an infirmary and nursing quarters, and a staff house, DeDominicis said.
The school’s mission is to educate poor Tanzanian girls and train them for a career path. Currently 150 girls are enrolled in the school, and the first class will graduate this year, DeDominicis said.
For Floros, the Sega girls who are struggling through difficult situations and poverty to complete their education are an inspiration. She’s hoping that she will complete her goal of getting to the summit.
So when she thinks about her upcoming journey she thinks of all the photos she has seen of other Kilimanjaro climbers.
“Every picture you see is of everybody clinging to the sign on the top that says you made it,” Floros said. “And everybody has big smiles.”