Acquiring isn't so different than climbing a mountain: success requires inspiration, perspiration, imagination and achievement. Dee Karawadra, founder and Chief Executive Officer of Impact PaySystem LLC, made this point Jan. 2, 2013, when he planted his flag on the summit of Mt. Kilimanjaro. At 19,342 feet above sea level, it is the highest point in Africa.
Karawadra, an American of Hindi descent, was born in Arusha, Tanzania, the city closest to Kilimanjaro. He retains the diversity of his life in the medley of his languages: English, Hindi, Swahili and the Indian dialect of Gujarati, a language common to the large Indian population that settled in East Africa during British colonization.
Long after Karawadra had built Impact into a thriving ISO, he returned to school and obtained his college degree just to demonstrate to his children the importance of education. His decision to climb Kilimanjaro was made for much the same reason.
"About 10 years ago, I started to think about my 40th birthday," he told The Green Sheet shortly after his return from the climb. "I told my wife, Emily, I needed to do something special for my birthday. This was a message for my kids, 'If a 40-year-old guy who is a little overweight can do this at his age, so can you.'"
He and Emily trained nearly a year for the climb. They walked as much as six or seven hours a day to prepare. "Turning 40 was symbolic for me," he said. "So much of my family had passed away - cousins and uncles. My dad passed away when I was five; his brother died the same day. I did this in their memory."
Climbing a mountain, like building a business, can require a reliable partner to succeed. Karawadra said he's not sure he would have made it to the top of Kilimanjaro without John McCormick, Vice President of General Credit Forms Inc., as his partner.
McCormick is a founding member of the Southeast Acquirers Association. He invited Karawadra to join the SEAA Board of Directors six years ago; they have been friends ever since.
"At first I thought he was joking about climbing Kilimanjaro," McCormick said. "My wife and I went to Australia on our honeymoon and realized it was our third continent; on our tenth anniversary we went to China. We talked it over, and I told Dee that if he wanted to climb a mountain in Africa, we would go with him."
Emily and Dee Karawadra; their oldest daughter, Morgan; and John and Stephanie McCormick arrived at Kilimanjaro International Airport on Dec. 27, 2012. They set out two days later, hiking five hours through rainforest to nearly 9,000 ft.
At day's end Stephanie became sick and dehydrated from food poisoning; Emily had swelling in her legs and feet from the altitude; Morgan had a chest cold. The group decided to split up. The three women went back to Arusha; Dee and John continued the climb.
Karawadra, McCormick and their guides walked six hours the next day to 12,205 ft. They rested Dec. 31 to allow their bodies to adjust to the altitude. New Year's Day they walked another six hours to 15,420 ft. On Jan. 2, they set out shortly after midnight, hiking eight hours to arrive at the ice-capped summit exhausted, sunburned and oxygen-deprived.
The partners spent just minutes at the top before starting the six hour hike back to where they had camped the night before.
"I know there were moments as we climbed when I looked at John and if he had said he wanted to turn around, I would have agreed and gone with him," Karawadra said.
"I'd make myself take 20 small, baby steps, and I'd stop before taking another 20 small steps. John kept me mentally pumped up and psyched up enough to know I could do this."
The friends bolstered one another's resolve during the climb. "I knew how much it meant to him to get to the top of that mountain," McCormick said. "Because he spoke Swahili, our guides knew how much it meant to him.
"They made sure we kept moving. There were times if Dee had said I'm done, I would have headed back down that mountain, but I knew he wanted to keep climbing, and I wasn't going to let him know how much my thighs hurt."
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