Vanessa Johnson is a personal trainer and World Challenge Expedition Leader. An experienced mountaineer, Vanessa leads expeditions around the world that involve mountainous or strenuous treks.
"I teamed up with World Challenge in 2009 because I wanted to take my own love of mountaineering and travelling, and encourage young people to get out there and explore the world. A highlight is always getting to the summit and seeing that sense of achievement when they have reached their goal. It is so nice to see how the Challengers all develop throughout the expedition; it really is a life-changing experience and I often stay in touch with the groups I have worked with long after they have returned home.
"Mentally and physically a World Challenge expedition will take you out of your comfort zone so fitness is vital. On a 7-14 day trek you need to have everything with you and so need to be able to carry a heavy pack on what can be quite difficult terrain. Seven days on Kilimanjaro (Tanzania) is tough even for Expedition Leaders – battling cold nights, hot days, sand blowing everywhere – but the fitter you are the better you will be able to cope and enjoy the experience.
"The impact of not preparing adequately for the physical challenge will not only affect your own experience, but it could impact the whole group. Last year in Borneo we had a small number of Challengers who hadn't taken the fitness aspect seriously and ultimately were not fit enough to be able to summit.
A teacher has to stay back with that group, so unless the ratios are right for the Expedition Leader to take a group on ahead, then the whole group suffers. Fortunately in Borneo we were able to join up with another group and were able to summit, but it would have been so disappointing for those students to have got so far and not been able to complete their mission simply because a small number had not trained for the challenge.
"To prepare for an expedition you need power in your legs and exercise in your lungs. Gyms are good and swimming in particular is great for enhancing lung capacity, but nothing beats getting outside and walking. Even if it is just in the local area, Challengers should get together and try some 10 mile walks, just to get used to the feel of the walking boots and carrying a pack."