It was the first half of my senior year of high school in 2016 when I first heard about Wellfit Girls on my school’s news one morning in my English class. It advertised itself as a five-month leadership and fitness program based out of Naples, Florida looking for a group of girls from my high school to apply. After the five months of training is over, they would all embark on a trip to Peru to give back to communities, hike the Lares Trek, and to top it off — climb Machu Picchu. The goal of this program was to teach teen girls how to climb high in all areas of life and to “Go Within to Go Beyond.” It seemed too good to be true.
Knowing how much I loved to travel and my passion for the outdoors, my English teacher encouraged me to apply. With very limited spots, I was doubtful that I was going to be accepted as a Wellfit Girl. But sure enough, one day in the middle of my 2nd period, I got called down to the Vice Principals office to meet with one of the directors to talk about my acceptance as a 2017 Wellfit Girl. I truly could not believe it. Yet again, it seemed too good to be true. At that point in time, I was the most excited about the fact that I’d be going to Peru in the summer of 2017, but little did I know what all was in store for me the next few months and for the rest of my life.
The 2017 Wellfit girls started embarking on our five-month leadership and fitness journey at the beginning of Jan. 2017. We met twice a week on campus — one day dedicated to fitness or yoga, and the other dedicated towards leadership training. As someone who had never worked out in my life, I was struggling, especially when it came to running. About three months into the training for the trip, we had to complete a 5k. This was something I had never done before and was honestly dreading, but because I knew I had to do it, I wanted to make it my goal to run it non-stop. I got really invested in running like I had never been before. Every night I would run around my neighborhood at least twice to complete a whole mile. It became something I would look forward to and even more so when I figured out I could keep running for longer and longer.
When the time came to run that 5k, I was able to run it non-stop at ease in a decent amount of time. I was so proud of myself. My dad even came to cheer me on at the finish line. Since the trip was still two and a half months away though, I couldn’t just stop running once I met that goal. I kept actively training and before we left for Peru, I was running five miles non-stop. This may not sound like a lot for those of you who are runners, but for me, it was huge. I had gone from not being able to run a single mile without stopping to comfortably running five non-stop within just a few months.
The beginning of June finally came after what felt like forever as we all were anticipating this trip to a new country, and we headed down south to Peru. The first few nights we stayed in this beautiful lodge-like place where we ate fresh Peruvian food and drank coca tea hourly to help with altitude sickness, amongst other things. During the days we would take the bus to the nearest village and volunteer with a program called Peru’s Challenge. This is a non-profit based out of Cuzco that works with volunteers to create opportunities for children and families in the Andes area of Peru. The Wellfit girls were split into two groups — half of us built a house out of local resources for a family while the other half of us painted a building that was turned into a sheltered craft center for a group of women to safely create, called the Inca Mamas, since that is how they make money.
Once our projects with Peru’s Challenge were complete, it was time to start hiking. We were to trek the Lares trail through the Andes mountains and summit at a little over 14,000 feet. It was going to take around three days total for the hike up and the hike down. I had no idea what was in store. It started out as an easy hike that didn’t seem to be too strenuous in which I was wildly mistaken and by the middle of our first day on the trail, I was feeling hopeless. It seemed like it was taking forever to get to our first base where we would settle down, eat dinner, and call it a night. Once we got there, I broke down. My body was both physically and mentally exhausted, but there was no turning back. This is what I trained for. I let myself have a brief, hopeless moment that first night, but I realized I had to find it within myself to persevere and get over that mountain.
On the second day, we all summited the mountain at over 14,000 feet with pounding headaches from altitude and layers upon layers of clothing on as the temperature went from warm to freezing the closer we got to the top. It was the greatest feeling. We felt superior. Something that we worked so hard for had finally happened. After that, the rest of the trek felt like a breeze. We were singing, laughing and telling jokes the rest of the way down. Our trek ended when we hiked into the city of Cusco where we slept like babies in a hotel after being on the trail for three days. The journey wasn’t over yet though. The best was yet to come.
The next morning, we woke up at a brisk 4 a.m. before the sun to catch the bus to take us to the gates of Machu Picchu. Our reward after over a five-month journey of self-discovery, self-reflection, acquired leadership skills and yoga and fitness training was to see one of the seven wonders of the world, and boy was is it wonderful. It truly was the icing on top of the cake for this amazing trip through this amazing program with these amazing people. The bonds I formed on the trip both with my fellow Wellfit sisters and the staff are ones that I cherish so deeply still to this day. If it wasn’t for Wellfit Girls, I truly would not be the person I am today. I have shape-shifted from being a young girl that was too shy to speak her mind and scared of what everyone had to say to a young woman and leader filled with goals, ambition, drive and resilience. While the title of this article might have hinted as just a cool trip to Machu Picchu, it was so much more than that. It was everything that led up to climbing Machu Picchu that truly changed my life.
Although I am and forever will be a 2017 Wellfit girl, as a Wellfit alumna, I can be a part of the alumni programs that Wellfit Girls has to offer. One of these programs is called Beyond the Summit. Beyond the Summit is a more extensive leadership program that happens each fall available for any alum, from any year to participate in. I have the opportunity to be a part of it this semester as we meet virtually every Thursday to really tune in on our leadership abilities. A big aspect of this program is fundraising as this is the time future Wellfit Girls start applying. It is our goal to be able to raise enough money to sponsor a girl’s trip this upcoming spring. If you have the means and want to help out the future Wellfit girls, you can donate on the website here: https://wellfitgirls.org/donate/.