In 2017, I came across the book Learning to Breathe in a Google search for inspirational novels about travel. My initial searched sparked a dozen more. Who is Alison Wright, and why did she climb to the top of Mt. Kilamanjaro? What I found was inspiring. Not only was she an award-winning National Geographic photographer and philanthropist, but her existence was essentially a medical miracle.
Her book, Learning to Breathe, tells the story of the grueling hours she spent traveling in the bed of a truck on the way to medical help and how she used that experience to catapult herself forward. She manages to overcome one of the toughest obstacles you could ever imagine, her own body. Her strong will and ‘never give up’ mentality allow her to literally make it out on top by climbing the tallest mountain in Africa.
After reading her harrowing tale, I was fortunate enough to attend the Women in Cable and Telecommunications (WICT) Conference in New York City. Seeing her name on the list of speakers immediately ignited my excitement. While I was impressed with the other sessions that morning, I was still anxiously waiting to see Alison Wright take the stage. Knowing what she had endured to be there made her liveliness even more inspirational than I had expected. This woman seemed just like all of us despite all of her surgeries and all of her travels. At the end of the session, we were given the opportunity to purchase a book and have it signed by the author. Needless to say, I was running to the kiosks outside the hotel ballroom.
Alison seems like someone I’d grab a beer with. (After all, she did work in what was considered the most dangerous pub in the world. Sorry, spoiler!) If you decide to read Learning to Breathe for yourself, you’ll see exactly what I mean. With so many poor role models nowadays, Alison is an inspiration for all of us to be more adventurous, more loving, and more grateful contributors to the world around us.
Here are some lessons I learned from her novel, and I’ll hope you’ll have some takeaways of your own when you give it a read!
After rounds of different doctors, terrifying travel experiences, and close-calls, Alison could have given up. She uses each challenge to motivate herself ultimately achieving her goal of hiking Mt. Kilamanjaro. It’s a subtle reminder that if we don’t hit our mark the first time around that our efforts are not useless. Sometimes, we have to give ourselves a second chance and understand that a timeline does not have to be set in stone.
If you’ve ever been skeptical of using meditation techniques, here’s your sign to start practicing. While I do believe that her recovery is a medical miracle of sorts, her ability to keep a sound mind through hours of agonizing pain made it possible for her to receive the care she needed. Years of travel in Southeast Asia afforded her the opportunity to practice all types of meditation and breathing techniques that quickly became essentials after her accident. If she can use meditation to make it through almost twenty hours of pain, imagine how helpful it could be in your day to day life.
As I read the book, I couldn’t help but think that Alison wouldn’t be able to offer the perspective she does without her experiences. Her global travels have led her to appreciate life in a different way than those of us that haven’t seen the stark contrast between hardship and beauty all over the world. If you decide to read this for yourself, I hope you’re inspired to take on new experiences and to place yourself in new environments. I promise it’s good for the soul.
In all her stories abroad or domestically, Alison has an incredible support system around her. From her family to the young man who initially stitched up her injuries, this community provides her with critical assistance. Something I hope I have if I ever find myself in a similar situation. The most impressive part is Alison’s ability to foster these relationships with individuals from different cultures and backgrounds. We should all aspire to be better global citizens, and Alison is the perfect example.
Throughout the entire novel, Alison intentionally takes time to express gratitude for the community that supported her so well. Most importantly, she travels back across the world to thank those that played a role in her recovery before she could physically travel back to the States. Let’s all take a lesson from her on that one. Gratitude and appreciation can be so powerful and will most likely lead to more positive than negative outcomes.