Last updated: January 05. 2014 9:44AM - 3508 Views
JON O'CONNELL joconnell@timesleader.com

Elizabeth Dunsavage, 68, of Luzerne, an aquatic aerobics instructor at Odyssey Fitness Center in Wilkes-Barre, last month climbed to the top of Mt. Kilimanjaro in Tanzania.
Elizabeth Dunsavage, 68, of Luzerne, an aquatic aerobics instructor at Odyssey Fitness Center in Wilkes-Barre, last month climbed to the top of Mt. Kilimanjaro in Tanzania.
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Who is Elizabeth Dunsavage?

• A water safety instructor with a long career in teaching people to swim, training lifeguards and helping people with arthritis using water therapy. She's taught mother and baby swim classes and has instructed young swimmers at Kistler Elementary School.

• Currently, she leads weekly “land and sea” aerobics classes at the CYC, in Wilkes-Barre, and daily aquatic aerobics classes at Odyssey Fitness in Wilkes-Barre.

• She has two grown children and lives in Luzerne with her husband, Bernard.

• She has completed around 10 marathons and many half marathons and long-distance runs.

High atop Mt. Kilimanjaro, with the rising sun on her face, Elizabeth Dunsavage attached wishes to pennies and nickels she had carried from 19,000 feet below and flung them into the inactive volcano's abyss.
Dunsavage of Luzerne, trekked to the top of the mountain in Tanzania, Africa, at the end of November, just three weeks after running a marathon. More than three miles above sea level, the air was thin and hard to breathe. With less atmosphere to protect them, the sun's rays raked over any exposed skin giving sunburn to cheeks and noses in just a few minutes.
Mt. Kilimanjaro is the tallest mountain in Africa at 19,340 feet above sea level. Dunsavage, a small but solid 68-year-old woman with square shoulders and impeccable posture, learned at the onset that 25,000 people attempt to reach the top each year. About half of them turn back before reaching the summit.
An inspiration to her students and role model for others, Dunsavage teaches daily aquatic aerobics classes at Odyssey Fitness and three times a week at the Catholic Youth Center for folks of all ages. She started running about 10 years ago and, gradually it grew intense.
Walt Disney World Goofy Marathon, Run for the Red, Boston, Steamtown, Lehigh Valley — Dunsavage ran them all.
She started training for her seven-day African hike one year before the climb. On Nov. 3, Dunsavage ran in the New York City Marathon, her last event before Kilimanjaro to make sure her lungs, heart and legs were in optimal shape before tackling the mountain.
She climbed in honor of her father, Joseph Baloh, a man she described as a great outdoorsman who died a few years ago.
The climb
Upon arriving in Tanzania, they were prepped on the possible dangers. Most, if not all of the climbers who don't reach the peak, descend early because of injury or sudden illness.
Altitude sickness, including severe headaches and edema — when fluid gathers quickly in the brain or lungs — is common and often forces athletes to quit before they reach their goals.
They climbed only six or seven hours each day, using the rest of the time to let their bodies adjust to the thinning air and oxygen and dropping temperature, a process called acclimatization.
When they began the climb, it was about 75 degrees on the ground. At the peak, temperatures can dip as low as minus 25 degrees with heavy winds.
Dunsavage and her son were joined by a father/daughter pair from California. Along the way, they made friends with other climbers from Australia, Canada and France. They were accompanied by about 25 African cooks, porters and guides. Dunsavage said most of their attendants were underpaid, but gracious hosts and clearly in love with the rugged climb.
Porters carried tents, cooking supplies and equipment and took the same trails the hikers took. The cooks made meals, mostly soup, which helped keep them hydrated. Their guides sang songs in Swahili and danced every night.
At the end of the trek, the climbers thanked their guides with gifts of food and clothing.
One friend they traveled with, a man from California who climbed with his 18-year-old daughter, suffered from pulmonary edema. Dunsavage said when he lay on his side, he could feel the fluid running from one lung into the other. He was the only climber from their group to turn back, though he swore he would return to try again.
Dunsavage said their guide asked them every 15 minutes to drink water. The air wasn't hot and they often did not feel thirsty, but their bodies were shedding water quickly from exertion, and dehydration was a concern.
They traveled through five climate areas, starting in the tropics and ending in the arctic. About 60 percent of the climb was over boulders and scaling steep precipices. There were moments, Dunsavage said, when she refused to look down.
When she did steal a peek, often only clouds met her gaze.
The summit
On the final day, they began at midnight using headlamps to guide them.
They set out to reach the summit in time to watch the sunrise.
As their troop reached the mountain top, the first flickers of sunlight peeked over the horizon.
They could stay at the summit only for about 15 minutes. The atmosphere was light, and the air was cold. Despite the sub-zero temperatures, unfiltered ultraviolet rays from the sun scorched their skin. Dunsavage felt weary from the climb and dizzy from the thin air; but the view was breathtaking.
Looking down, the ground circling the peak was covered by a thick, rolling blanket of clouds.
During the descent, she felt the only real altitude sickness during the whole trip. She lost her appetite almost entirely, a minor ailment, she said. She credits her preparedness and caution used while climbing for avoiding serious injury.
Back home
Now that Dunsavage has returned, she's back to her aerobics classes where her director at Odyssey, Carol Buss, said her students are more like family than pupils. Every day, she meets early with swimmers to chat outside the pool. The swimmers celebrate each others' birthdays together and help each other through tough times, too.
Dunsavage more often gets in the pool with her students. She said doing the exercises along with them usually gets them moving a little faster.
Buss and Dunsavage have grown close during the last 15 years, but she said she was shocked when she found out the aerobics coach was going to climb Kilimanjaro.
“I still have the note on my calendar,” Buss said. “It said, 'this is what I'm going to be doing,' as if she was sharing a recipe or something. I was shocked that she was doing it, but it wasn't a shock that she could accomplish it.”
Dunsavage's husband, Bernie, said he couldn't be more proud of his wife.
Dunsavage didn't say she would return to Kilimanjaro, but said with confidence the climb won't be the end of her athletic excursions.

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