When you’ve won 18 Grand Slam singles titles (including reaching the Wimbledon finals for nine straight years) and beaten breast cancer, a 19,341-foot mountain is no big deal. On December 6, Martina Navratilova will begin a six-day ascent up Mount Kilimanjaro, the highest freestanding mountain in the world, to raise funds for the Laureus Sport for Good Foundation, an organization that brings sports to disadvantaged kids around the world. For a warm-up, the 54-year-old recently took to the stairs to climb the Bank of America Tower, New York’s second tallest building (which, for the record, has 51 elevators). About 950 feet later, Martina explained why she keeps reaching for new heights.
Couldn’t you have started by climbing something smaller, like the Statue of Liberty?
[Laughs] This was easy. It took fifteen minutes. It was no big deal.
Was that the time you were hoping for?
Yeah. I just walked. I couldn’t run up 55 stories, which is actually the equivalent of about 75 floors, but I’m in good enough shape so it was an easy walk.
This was the equivalent of just 4 percent of your upcoming Kilimanjaro climb. Is that a little intimidating?
If I could just do 20 of these it would be a piece of cake, but it’s when they’re stacked on top of each other and you get into high altitude that it becomes a problem. The issue is not going up, it’s that there’s no air.
How have you changed your usual workout routine to prepare for the climb?
You have to adapt your training to the task at hand. My normal workout is going to the gym and playing some hockey and tennis. That doesn’t help you on Kilimanjaro. So I’ve been doing more running and long distance stuff, and I started doing stairs to get the calves going and the muscles acclimated. That’s why the climb today was easy. If I hadn’t done that, then my calves would be screaming at me now and for the next three days!
You’re doing this to raise funds for the Laureus Sports for Good Foundation. What can you tell us about it?
We have about 80 projects in 40 countries that help kids get involved in sports and participate in a safe environment and have a good time. These are underprivileged kids from all kinds of difficult backgrounds, whether it’s the projects in the big cities in the U.S. or U.K. or the slums of Nairobi or the townships in South Africa. We have kids from all walks of the downtrodden life getting an opportunity to enjoy themselves. A million kids have participated around the world so it’s affected a lot of kids along the way.
You were diagnosed with breast cancer earlier this year. How has life changed since you got the news?
I’ve been talking about it more than I wanted to! But that was the reason I went public, to raise awareness for women to get tested and not put off that screening. And I’m doing well physically. I’ve been done with the treatments since June and I’m 100 percent and told I’m in great shape.
No kidding! Did it change your outlook on life?
It didn’t. I’ve always been a seize-the-day kind of person with a very positive attitude, so it just reinforced it and made me reevaluate my life and exactly where I want to be in the end. So I was in a good place then and still am in a good place.
Have you altered your diet or nutrition at all?
Nope. I just kept been doing what I’ve been doing, which has been eating healthy for the last 30 years!