Alison Levine is what you might call a thrill-seeker.
She has scaled dozens of mountains, skied to the North and South Poles in subzero temperatures, and climbed Mount Everest –– twice.
“It just wasn't that big of a deal,” Levine, 47, said of reaching the top. The two-month trek to the summit and “the lessons you learn along the way” are more valuable, she told a packed auditorium on Wednesday at St. Andrew United Methodist Church, near 150th Street and West Maple Road.
She addressed about 1,000 people as part of the Omaha Town Hall Lecture Series, a membership-driven event in its 49th year.
Levine, who lives in San Francisco, is a mountaineer, an author and a motivational speaker.
She climbed her first mountain — Mount Kilimanjaro in Tanzania — in 1998. She's been hooked since, climbing a new mountain whenever the opportunity arises.
She has scaled peaks on every continent — an especially impressive feat, given her health conditions. Doctors diagnosed Levine with a congenital heart defect when she was 17. The illness limited what she could do physically, but she recovered after several surgeries.
She continues, however, to battle Raynaud's disease, which blocks blood flow to the extremities and is exacerbated by cold.
Her climbing experience qualified Levine to lead the first American Women's Everest Expedition in 2002.
Their trip was expensive. Just the boots required to grip the icy mountain cost $900. Ford Motor Co. agreed to fund the expedition because it coincided with the launch of their new SUV: the Ford Expedition. Levine joked that she preferred their sponsorship over Chevy's, whose SUV is called the Avalanche.
Properly equipped, the women started the climb from their base camp, which was more than 17,000 feet above sea level. Each time they reached a higher point on the route, they returned to base camp to acclimate themselves to the changing altitude.
She had to remind herself, despite moving backward, “You're still making progress.”
After two months of climbing, a storm forced the group to turn around a few hundred feet from the summit. They didn't have enough supplies or oxygen to try again.
Though she didn't plan to, Levine faced the mountain for a second time in the spring of 2010 to honor a friend who had died the previous year.
This time, another storm rolled in, again with the summit in Levine's sight. As other groups turned back, Levine decided to continue her ascent. Her experience on the same mountain eight years before propelled her forward.
“We have to value failure and learn from it,” she said, as a picture taken near the top of Mount Everest popped up on the screen behind her. It showed the mountain's shadow, a deep purple, against lighter blue peaks and open sky.
“You have to weather the storms if you're ever going to have the opportunity to enjoy this kind of view,” she said.