In our world of postings and Instagram, we all like to have bragging rights. Maybe it’s your high score on Super Mario Bro., or that you met a famous musician backstage at a concert. Maybe you’re one of those people with connections that can get free stuff, or perhaps you have a superior skill that makes you stand out from the crowd. My bragging right is my Aunt Connie. Connie Hallof, when she is not working as a Registered Nurse in the field of Kidney Dialysis, training RN’s as an Education Coordinator for Home Therapy Dialysis, or being a mom to her three adult children, she is most likely training for a climb.
My aunt does mountain climbs for Operation Mobilization’s Freedom Challenge, an organization that raises funds and awareness for victims of human sex trafficking. For context, human trafficking is a worldwide enterprise that forces women and children into a life of sex and slavery. For the past few years, Connie has done four climbs for Operation Mobilization’s Freedom Challenge in her local mountain ranges in northeastern Colorado to help raise funds and awareness of this global problem. This year, Connie had the opportunity to climb in a more ancient part of the world: Machu Picchu. She spent part of her September in Peru climbing one of the new seven wonders of the world, surrounded by a beauty most only see on television.
Despite Connie’s busy schedule, I was able to ask her some questions about her time in Peru, what it was like there, and what we can do to help the fight against human trafficking.
Morgan: Tell us about the organization you climb for and what they do.
Connie: I climb with The Freedom Challenge which operates under the Mission Organization Operation Mobilization. The moto is "My Challenge-Their Freedom". The Freedom Challenge is a movement of passionate women dedicated to freeing oppressed and enslaved women and children all around the world. We do this by participating in physical challenges that test our limits while raising funds and awareness to combat these dark, social injustices and set women and children on the pathway to freedom. Operation Mobilization has over 20 projects around the globe that work directly with women and children to do just that. With each "challenge" a certain amount of money is raised that goes directly to those projects. Each participant pays for their own costs. The money raised all goes to the projects.
Morgan: How many women participated in this recent climb in Peru and what did it take to get to get there?
Connie: (There were) 36 women from 7 countries, each raising $10,000… to hike the Salkantay Trail to Machu Picchu.
Morgan: What kind of training did you have to do for the climb?
Connie: We aren't professional athletes, just women who want to make a difference. I personally trained for 6 months to prepare for the hike. Upon arrival in Peru, there were 2 days to acclimate to altitude then 6 days of hiking and camping without running water, electricity or bathrooms, reaching to 15,500ft at the highest point and culminating in the Sacred Valley and climbing Machu Picchu. Since I live in Colorado, it was easy for me to get my lungs ready for the increased elevation. I hiked, ran and had strength conditioning to prepare.
Morgan: Once you got to Machu Picchu, what was it like? What are some of the highlights?
Connie: Once I got to Peru, I fell in love with the country. The people were so kind and gracious, the food amazing and the scenery breathtaking. We flew into Cusco, Peru. At one time this city was the center of the Inca Civilization. The city sits at 11,000ft elevation. A good starting point to acclimate to the thinner air. From there we hiked the Salkantay Trail. At the start it is very green with orchids, avocados, (and) wild berries all along the trail. (There were) even coffee and banana plantations. As you climb, the air was not only thinner but much colder.
It was raining a lot during our trek. On day 4 we had the trail wash out behind us in a mudslide and a bridge in front of us wash out. We had to cross the river at a waterfall tied at the waist with a rope and praying we wouldn't get swept away. The previous days I had been in awe of the beauty of God's handiwork in creation. At the river crossing, I was inspired by (the) women aged 19-68 who one by one crossed through the rushing waters without one moment of hesitation or outward signs of anxiety. Scariest thing I have ever done. I was so proud of every woman who was there. But through the rain, water, mud and burning lungs, I was moved to press on, knowing that my affliction was but for a short period of time while there are millions in the world who are suffering every day without hope of ever getting free from their oppressors. The hike culminated with a very rigorous hike up rock stairs to the top of Machu Picchu. It was breathtaking and surreal.
Morgan: For students who may be interested in doing something like this, what advise can you give them?
Connie: I would encourage students to look beyond themselves and make a difference. At times it may seem overwhelming when one looks at all the suffering and injustice in the world. (But) there are many organizations who are working to help end modern day slavery.
Morgan: How can students get involved in the fight against human trafficking?
Connie: The facts are daunting.
30M people in the world today are slaves. 24M are women and children. 12M are underage children.
The key is, everyone of us can make a difference. Become aware of how to spot a potentially trafficked woman or child, join the End it Now campaign, do something crazy like climbing mountains. Just don't be silent.
"I alone cannot change the world, but I can cast a stone across the water to create many ripples" Mother Teresa
Be the Pebble.
Curious about climbing for freedom? Visit thefreedomchallenge.com to find out more.