Valencia to raise funds as he climbs mountain
Pirates' physical therapist will complete trek on Thanksgiving
PITTSBURGH -- Shortly after Erwin Valencia finished trekking the Incan Trail to Machu Picchu three years ago, the brainstorming began.
Valencia, a self-described adventurer who also happens to be the Pirates' physical therapist and rehab coordinator, wanted to expand his bucket list. He had already climbed Mt. Fuji, doing that when he was only 13. He had run with the bulls in Pamplona, Spain, back in 2002.
But Valencia was after even more of a physical challenge.
He nixed the idea of climbing Mt. Everest, explaining that he wanted to choose a climb "that you could more than likely still be alive at the end of and also not have to spend your life savings on."
And so Valencia set his sights on Africa's tallest mountain, Mt. Kilimanjaro, which rises more than 19,000 feet above sea level.
He began his climb up on Friday.
"I've always used my offseason to do something crazy and fun," Valencia said before he traveled across the Atlantic Ocean. "Just having the time and committing yourself to the hike of Kilimanjaro is something that I was trying to figure out a way to fit in. I'm getting older and I'm still physically fit, and I wanted to prepare for something."
Valencia's climb, which will include a summit on Day 6 and a descent that will be completed on Thanksgiving, is for more than just personal satisfaction, however. For the first time, Valencia has added a charitable element to one of his adventures.
Having heard how former NFL player Tedy Bruschi climbed Mt. Kilimanjaro to raise money for the Wounded Warrior Project earlier this year, Valencia decided to also solicit donations, which he plans to distribute to two charitable organizations.
"This just gives me more motivation," Valencia said. "This will make me push harder in the training, make me push harder as I go up the mountain."
Setting his fundraising goal at $4,000, Valencia will give half of the money to I Matter Too, Inc., a Tampa-area organization established by a friend of his. The organization offers tutoring and mentorship programs to abused and orphaned children.
Unable to volunteer with I Matter Too, Inc. in a traditional sense because he spends much of the year in Pittsburgh, Valencia found this to be the next best way to give his support.
"I asked [my friend] if she thought a little exposure would help the foundation," Valencia said. "She said, 'That's a miracle. You don't understand how much that would mean.' Maybe in this way I can basically make up for the years I haven't been there on the spot."
The rest of the money will go to Pirates Charities, which will use the funds for a project involving children and education. Valencia has set up a fundraising website for anyone interested in supporting his climb.
Valencia's training for the hike began in mid-August with general workouts and runs around Pittsburgh. After a month of fitness work, he began doing more extensive hill work. He ran around Camelback Mountain when the team traveled to Arizona in September. He jogged up and down the stairs at PNC Park and Miller Park during the last week of the season.
When the regular season was over, Valencia left for Colorado, where he served as a medical volunteer at the U.S. Olympic Training Center in Colorado Springs. He took advantage of his time there to incorporate altitude training into his fitness regimen.
"You obviously have to be physically fit, but you have to be physically fit in the altitude," said Valencia, who spent time in Africa last offseason, too, when he bungeed the continent's two highest jumps.
"Every two thousand feet, your body has to adapt to it because your body has to work more to collect the oxygen that is not present."
Once his two-week commitment at the U.S. Olympic Training Center ended, Valencia spent a few days hiking up mountains in Boulder and Vail. His climbs took him up to 10,000 feet above sea level, though that is still only about half the distance high as the peak of Mt. Kilimanjaro.
He left the U.S. on Nov. 10, traveling first to Europe, where he acclimated himself to the time zone. Valencia arrived in Tanzania, Africa, last Wednesday to get used to the climate and altitude. Two days later, he, along with a guide and several porters -- who will carry water, cookers and other gear up the mountain for Valencia -- began their climb.
"Nobody else would go with me," Valencia said. "But I have two foundations that are going to be with me as I go up."
If all goes as planned, Valencia will return to the base of the mountain in the early evening hours of Nov. 24. That will leave him enough time to still enjoy a Thanksgiving meal.
"I will probably eat the biggest meal I could ever eat in Africa," he joked. "I'm going to find some elk or some wild animal to hunt or a gazelle or antelope. I think you can create your own feast."
He'll follow his feast with a day of recovery and a one-day trip to the Ngorongoro Crater, the world's largest caldera. From there, Valencia will return back to the U.S., likely already dreaming up what adventure awaits him next year.
Jenifer Langosch is a reporter for MLB.com. Read her blog, By Gosh, It's Langosch, and follow her on Twitter @LangoschMLB. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.