After losing 21kg, Paula Robertson feels on top of the world – and she is scaling new heights to celebrate her achievement.
The New Plymouth mum lost 21kg in 21 weeks and is travelling to Nepal this month, hiking to the base camp of Mt Everest to help extreme athlete and mentor Lisa Tamati set a new world record for running the highest marathon.
“It’s just an awesome way of recognising my weight-loss journey,” says Paula (43), sporting a huge smile.
“Most people would probably prefer to go to a beach and lay in the sun.
“However, climbing Everest is something different. It is a great way of challenging myself and taking me out of my comfort zone.”
A year ago, Paula, who is married with a 16-year-old son, was overweight, tipping the scales at 89kg and suffering from low self-esteem.
“The extra weight was affecting me in lots of ways. I didn’t feel good about myself and was sick of feeling that way,” she explains.
Paula joined Weight Watchers, and after shedding the kilos (she now weighs 68kg), she looked for more challenges.
In March, she responded to a Facebook message on fellow Taranaki woman Lisa’s page, looking for people to train. Paula was so unfit, she couldn’t even run 1km, but she responded to Lisa’s post, hoping she could help.
“We had a coffee and clicked straight away,” Paula says.
Lisa (45) was happy to train Paula – and in less than a month, she was ready to run her first half-marathon, along a Taranaki beach.
“It was amazing,” Paula says. “Lisa was patient and instilled a lot of confidence in me. I started to believe that I could do it.”
Lisa is no stranger to realising her own dreams – New Zealand’s best-known ultra-marathon runner has taken on some of the most difficult climates and terrains, including a 222km trek across the Niger desert in Africa and running through Death Valley, USA, in extreme heat.
But Lisa loves helping other women reach their goals.
“All Paula needed was guidance and help with the running form. I love to see women blossom and achieve their dreams,” Lisa tells.
The accomplished athlete was so impressed with Paula’s determination, she invited her along to Nepal.
“The Everest attempt is a huge challenge,“ explains Lisa.
“The entire marathon will be run on very rough terrain in one of the highest altitudes in the world, with freezing temperatures and oxygen deprivation. Most women would put this in the too-hard basket, but not Paula. She’s rising to the challenge.”
Preparation for the 22-day event has drawn the two women together and they have become very close friends.
“I have huge respect for Paula,” says Lisa. “It will be the biggest challenge of her life.
“Getting to base camp takes 10 days by foot. More people die on the way to base camp than on the trek to Everest.”
Despite the obvious dangers, Lisa has ensured that Paula is mentally and physically fit for the experience.
“She follows advice and does what she needs to. When she takes something on, she gives it her all. I know what the body is capable of and the mental preparation required. I have grabbed her by the hand and shown her some hiccups she might face,” says Lisa.
Paula is inspired by her friend’s drive and encouragement, and has learnt that setting herself huge goals is helping keep the weight off.
“When I return, I’m going to set myself another challenge and then another one, just so I can maintain my fitness and a healthy lifestyle.”
Photos: Trevor Read • Make-Up: Hailey Thompson