May is both National Physical Fitness and Sports Month as well as Mental Health Awareness Month. To commemorate these observances, Excel by Eight is highlighting an inspiring story of personal achievement and perseverance featuring none other than our colleague, Jamie Morrison Ward. 

As the founder and president of Curricula Concepts Inc. and managing partner of Be Well Care Well, Jamie is dedicated to fostering collaborative relationships and driving meaningful change within the field of early childhood education. She is committed to creating lasting positive outcomes for all involved, from educators and families to policymakers and community leaders. Jamie supports Excel by Eight Foundations’ work in early childhood education through her role as president of the Arkansas Association for Infant Mental Health. This association promotes the healthy social and emotional development of infants, toddlers, and their families. 

In August 2023, just weeks after her 50th birthday, Jamie completed 29029 Everesting, a rigorous challenge where participants climb the equivalent of Mount Everest, or 29,029 feet, in 36 hours. The 36-hour climb and the training itself are as much a mental challenge as a physical one. We caught up with Jamie to talk about her experience and how the lessons from her journey to the top – all 13 trips – can be applied both in fitness and in her professional life. 

HOW IT STARTED. Jamie Ward at the beginning of the 36-hour 29029 Everesting challenge.

Q: Jamie, congratulations on completing the 29029 Everesting challenge! Can you tell us a bit about what this challenge entails?

Jamie Ward: Thank you! The 29029 Everesting challenge is an event where participants climb the equivalent height of Mount Everest, which is 29,029 vertical feet, within 36 hours. It involves repeatedly hiking up a mountain to reach the total elevation of Everest and then taking a gondola down after each ascent. For my challenge, I chose to climb Snowbasin in Utah, which required a total of 13 ascents.

Q: That sounds incredibly demanding. How did you prepare for such an intense challenge, and what motivated you to take it on?

Jamie Ward: Preparation was key. I trained for 20 weeks, which involved a lot of endurance training and incline work and a ton of commitment and sacrifice. On my 50th birthday, I climbed the bleachers at a high school football field in the July heat for 8 hours. I even had to train on how and what to eat during these long workouts so I could keep my body fueled. 

Mental conditioning was also a big part of my training. 29029 Everesting has coaches for not only the physical aspect of the challenge but also for mindfulness. I faced several challenges, including finding time in my busy schedule to train while working and living away from home to care for my elderly father-in-law and my nephew. 

The motivation to sign up for the event came from a desire to push my limits and see what I was capable of. I’ve always been a big believer in challenging myself. I also wanted to set an example for the children in my life and the people on my team about the importance of perseverance and setting big goals.

Q: What were some of the biggest challenges you faced during the event?

Jamie Ward: One of the biggest challenges was maintaining mental toughness. The training didn’t quite prepare me for what was to come. By the third ascent up the mountain, I was struggling, and I couldn’t believe it was that hard so early on. During that ascent, I started saying to myself, over and over, “I am strong. I am capable. God is with me.” That mantra really helped, and I felt much better during the fourth ascent. However, when I saw my time after that ascent, I burst into tears because it took me longer than it needed to in order to finish all 13 ascents. My goal was to finish. That was not everybody’s goal.

To make sure I could complete the challenge, I only rested for 30 minutes during the night and hiked the rest of the time. My biggest fear during the night hike was the wildlife. I saw fresh animal tracks but thankfully no animals. It was an eerie feeling to hike at night by myself, but I was grateful there was no sun.

By the 12th time up the mountain, I had no gas in my tank. I was nauseous and couldn’t even physically drink water or broth. But I needed something in my stomach to keep going. I had 2 hours and 40 minutes to complete the final ascent. I knew I could do it because I completed a few of the other ascents in less time, but I was spent – both physically and mentally. 

The coaches, particularly Coach Emily and Coach Brent, were instrumental on that 13th climb. They guided me step by step to make sure I reached my goal. I finished the final ascent with little time to spare, and I was the last participant to climb the height of Everest, making me part of the 60% that completed all 13 ascents. I cried when I was done – and the next day too – and felt an overwhelming sense of accomplishment. I kept thinking to myself, “I really can do anything,” and truly felt like a different person than when I started.

THE MIDWAY POINT. Although physical and mental exhaustion set in, Jamie was determined to complete all 13 ascents in the Everesting challenge.

Q: What kept you motivated when things got really tough?

Jamie Ward: I consider myself to be a pretty strong person. I’ve always believed I can make it through anything because I have made it through a lot of hard things in my life. But I still have that self-doubt that creeps in. On that 13th ascent, I kept thinking, “I can’t do this.” I wasn’t saying anything negative out loud, but I was saying it in my head. My body was literally falling apart.

What kept me going was remembering how many people knew I was doing this. I was doing it for me, but I was also doing it for all the kids who knew about it – kids in my family, my friends’ kids. It seems like now more than ever, we let kids give up if things get too hard. We try to fix it for them. I wanted to show them that it’s possible to do hard things.

I do take the credit for walking the mountain because it was my legs that did it. But there’s absolutely no chance I would have crossed that finish line without the support of other people. No chance. Every ride down the gondola, I was reading text messages from friends, family, and even people I hardly knew. I had 200 text messages from people saying they were praying for me. Their support meant the world to me.

Q: In your professional life, you work in early childhood education. How do the lessons you learned from the Everesting challenge apply to your work with early educators and families?

Jamie Ward: The principles of perseverance, resilience, and goal-setting are universal. In early childhood education, we emphasize the importance of having a growth mindset and believing that abilities and intelligence can be developed with effort and perseverance. Completing the Everesting challenge reinforced this belief for me. It’s about showing children that even when things get tough, they can achieve great things through hard work and determination.

FINISHED. “I cried when I was done – and the next day too – and felt an overwhelming sense of accomplishment,” Jamie said. “I kept thinking to myself, ’I really can do anything,’ and truly felt like a different person than when I started.”

Q: What advice would you give to someone who is facing a difficult challenge, whether in fitness or in their career?

Jamie Ward: My advice would be to break down the challenge into smaller, manageable parts and celebrate each milestone along the way. Stay focused on your ‘why’ – why you’re doing it – and surround yourself with a supportive community. Remember that setbacks are part of the journey. Use them as learning opportunities rather than roadblocks.

Q: How do you stay motivated to maintain physical fitness while managing a busy professional life?

Jamie Ward: For me, staying physically active is essential for my mental health and overall well-being. I schedule my workouts like any other important meeting and prioritize them. Finding activities that I enjoy also helps, as it makes the workouts feel less like a chore and more like a reward.

Q: Finally, what’s next for you? Any new challenges on the horizon?

Jamie Ward: I’m always looking for new ways to push my boundaries. I can’t imagine doing something bigger than this, but I don’t want to live a status quo life. I want to keep challenging myself, whatever that looks like. The next opportunity will come to me.