Saray Khumalo is the first Black African woman to summit Everest. She is a motivational speaker, transformational coach, and successful corporate executive. In this episode, Adii and Saray discuss mountaineering, failing up, finding a unique purpose in life, imposter syndrome, and why the sky is not the limit.
“For me, being an African woman is a label that I wear so proudly. It’s one that over the years has been seen as second class, third class citizen almost. I wear it proudly because it’s time for us to say ‘I am an African woman, I have something to say, I can contribute, and I can change the world.’”
Saray is not only the first Black African woman to reach the summit of Everest, but also to do the Last Degree Ski to the South Pole. In addition to being a mountaineer and explorer, she is a sister, a mother, and neighbor trying to live her life to the fullest.
“We actually have 24 hours. What can I do with the 24 hours? I divide it in three. I give eight hours to my boss and I’ve got the remaining 16 hours between sleeping, my family, and me.”
She knows she only has one life and chance to make an impact, so Saray tries to make a conscious effort to make deliberate choices about how she spends her time. If something is important to her, she makes that thing a priority—though, she notes, this can mean that other things will need to be given up to make room for that priority. It’s all about the choices you make and where those choices, good or bad, take you.
“When you understand what your “why” is, your “how” is easy.”
After receiving a call that she’d lost her sister, Saray began asking herself questions about how she was living her life. She questioned whether her sister had fulfilled her life purpose, and whether Saray was fulfilling her own. Was she fulfilling her “why”?
She wanted to make real change in the world and to show her sons that they could, too. And in order to do so, she decided, she would raise money for education through doing something she loved: mountain climbing. Specifically, she set out to climb the seven highest peaks around the world.
An Accidental Mountaineer
Saray never meant to become a mountaineer. It was really an “accident,” she says. She’d come to America in 1996, humorously after watching the film Coming to America. During her time there, someone once asked if she’d ever climbed Kilimanjaro, and in that moment it was added to her bucket list. In 2012, her sister would remind her of this goal, and that’s when she came up with the idea to use climbing to raise funds.
“The sky was not the limit, because suddenly the clouds were beneath me.”
Saray attempted to climb Everest four times. In 2014, Saray found herself on Everest for the first time, but she says she shouldn’t have been there because she was so inexperienced. She kept going back, however, despite being faced with tragedy, weather, and other dangerous factors.
With each failure she reflected on her experience and learned from it, and each time she returned with more fervor. And in 2019, she would make history as the first Black African woman to reach the summit of Mount Everest.