Carina Dayondon doesn’t merely move mountains, she conquers them. In fact, she is the first Filipina who stood at the top of the world’s highest peaks, and here’s how her story began.
Dayondon is the fourth among 15 siblings from Don Carlos in Bukidnon, Mindanao. Dayondon’s family wasn’t affluent, but her parents were both earning for a living substantial enough to make ends meet. Her father eventually resigned from his local bank post and ventured into business, but the investments didn’t flourish. “Na-bankrupt negosyo ng papa ko kaya huminto ako sa college,” she recalled.
Out of the classroom, circa 1998, Dayondon worked on several jobs. Among which were that of a sweepstakes attendant and a babysitter. She also started joining adventure races where groups of athletes would have to perform multi-discipline sports to cover long distances within several days.
With her sense of adventure—backed by her Girl Scout wisdom, softball athlete experience, and National Sportclimbing Team membership—she was a force to reckon with. The cash prize she consolidated was her wherewithal to return to school. Finally, in 2004, Carina graduated with a degree in Bachelor of Science Major in Business Management from Xavier University–Ateneo de Cagayan. “Kinailangan kong makatapos ng college, kasi iyon ‘yong magiging example ko sa mga kapatid ko,” she said.
Dayondon’s accomplishments did not go unappreciated. Former undersecretary of the Department of Transportation and Communication Arturo Valdez was impressed with her adventure racing finishes. In the same month of her graduation, she received an invitation from Valdez to train for the team’s ambitious outdoor endeavours. The years that followed were a series of local and international training to have her equipped with theoretical knowledge and practical skills about the wonders of nature.
In 2006, as preparation for their Everest expedition, Carina journeyed to Alaska to climb North America’s highest peak, Mt. Denali (6,190m). Only a year after, she together with two other Filipina mountaineers Noelle Wenceslao and Janet Belermino braved the Mt. Everest (8,850m), and their names had since been written in history as the first women who made it to the highest peak in the world.
Only at that time when she became cognizant of the Seven Summit challenge. One that is more daunting than conquering Mt. Everest, in relation to our country’s tropical climate. “I heard about Seven Summits after our successful summit on Mt. Everest,” Dayondon recalls, “and ginusto ko na rin siyang kumpletuhin kasi alam kong meron na akong dalawa.”
Turn of events
After Everest, from 2009 to 2011, she embarked on another journey called ‘The Voyage of Balangay,’ in which she sailed around South East Asian waters to reconnect people with their maritime historic past.
“But around April in 2012, nalaman kong may stage two cancer ‘yong kapatid ko, si Heidi. Pero sobrang tapang niya. Na-inspire ako sa kanya.” Motivated by her sister’s own battle, and impelled to finish what she started, Dayondon recommenced her Seven Summits journey. And despite the countless struggles that came along with the elusive funding and sponsorships, she conquered nonetheless.
In 2013, she braved Europe’s Mt. Elbrus (5,642m), then Australia’s Mt. Kosciuzko (2,228m) in 2014. 2015 was a particularly commemorative year, not only because she summitted Africa’s Mt. Kilimanjaro (2,895m) in October, but also because of her sister Heidi’s unfortunate demise in December.
“I remember pa no’ng bumalik ako from Africa, sobrang tuwa niya no’ng nakita ako, at sa story ko about Kilimanjaro,” she said, in between sobs, looking back at the remaining days of the person she considered her biggest fan. With Heidi’s passing, and her financial instability, Carina decided to rest.
It didn’t take long before she received a message from a familiar friend. In December 2016, Valdez offered assistance for Carina’s sixth summit expedition. Just a month after, in January 2017, she found herself in South America’s Mt. Aconcagua (6,962m).
However, due to extreme weather conditions, it resulted to a failed attempt. But life had its way to turn Dayondon’s non-fulfillment into victory. It only took a chance encounter for her to put the mountain gears back on. As an invited guest speaker in an event of the World Wide Fund (WWF) for Nature, president of the Bank of the Philippine Islands also present at the gathering paid heed to her captivating story. A pledge was later made in support for her comeback quest. In January 2018, her returned to Mt. Aconcagua was triumphant.
Months after, with the risk of her left eye going blind due to complications of the retina and despite her voluntary decision to be left behind by her team due to her slower pace, Carina Dayondon waved the Philippine flag at the top of Antarctica’s Mt. Vinson (4,892m). On December 16, 2018, she became the first Filipina who completed the world’s seven summits.
“No’ng itinaas ko ‘yong flag, naiyak talaga ako. Napatunayan nito na walang summit ng buhay mo ang hindi mo kayang abutin,” she said, humbled by the experience. No matter how high her feet lead her to, Carina promises to stay on the ground, while remaining audacious to empower other women.
“Mountain climbing is a male-dominated sport. But women should not be intimidated. Maaaring physically, mas malakas ang mga lalaki. Pero hindi lang naman ito puro lakas ng katawan. Kailangan din ng tibay ng loob, determinasyon, at tiwala sa sarili. Kaya I believe kaya rin ng kababaihan,” she ended.
(Featured image from Carina Dayondon. The original version of this article was first published on mb.com.ph)
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