Silverton resident Helen “Cokie” Berenyi had the benefit of her brothers’ wisdom to guide her as she grew into adulthood in the American South. From taking her on hunting trips to keeping questionable suitors at bay, they taught her to be a strong, independent woman. As she got older, she embarked on her own trips into the world, most significantly, into the mountains where her passion for climbing solidified her confidence and self-reliance.
Later, as she faced the challenge of bringing up daughters of her own, she felt daunted by safe-guarding them against the dangers of growing up in today’s society. She thought about how climbing had helped instill her own confidence and how she wanted her girls to learn that same ability. From this, the concept of She CLIMBS (Center for Leadership in Mind, Body, and Spirit) was born.
On January 10, 2014 the dream of empowering young women became a reality for Berenyi as her daughter, Helen Simons “H.S.” Berenyi became the youngest female American to summit Mount Kilimanjaro, just days before her tenth birthday.
Cokie, what is it about climbing that instills such confidence in you personally?
It’s an all or nothing sense of accomplishment. When everything is stripped away, down to the most basic of needs, it becomes just a mental and physical challenge. And there is also the idea that no matter how bad the day before has gone, by six a.m. the next morning, it’s a new day. It’s a whole new beautiful opportunity. It’s a chance to experience reaching your limits, and then the next time you face them, you know you can meet the challenge. People need that.
Helen, what did you think when your mom told you that you would be going to Africa to climb Kili for your birthday?
It was like a dream. I had always heard stories about my sisters going to Africa with my dad, and I’ve always wanted to go.
Were you afraid?
I was about fifty percent scared and fifty percent confident. And my mom had already climbed Kilimanjaro before, so she knew it was safe.
Is that why you chose that climb, Cokie?
Yes. I had people asking me, “What are you doing?” when they heard we were going. But I knew it was required to have porters when climbing that mountain, so we wouldn’t have to worry about carrying packs. I knew it was a safe mountain, and we took time for the girls to acclimate before we went for the summit. We’d climb part way, then go back down to camp. We did that for two days before a summit bid. I always had it in mind that even if we summited, the girls needed to be strong enough to descend.