This 7-Year-Old Girl Suffered An Agonizing Loss, So She Took On Africa’s Ultimate Challenge

The parents of very young children play a crucial role in their development, never leaving their side for those precious years. That wasn’t the case for the unfortunate Montannah Kenney, though, as her father died just days after she turned three in 2013. However, five years later she honored his memory by attempting Africa’s toughest challenge.

Montannah and her mom Hollie live in Austin, Texas, where Hollie, a former triathlete, now runs her own triathlon coaching business. Tragedy struck the family in 2013 when Montannah’s dad passed away a week after the little girl’s third birthday. At the time of his death, Montannah’s dad was undergoing eye movement desensitization and reprocessing therapy, better known as EMDR, a treatment for survivors of trauma.

However, Montannah didn’t forget about her father in the following years, as she often spoke about him with her mom. “We’ve always talked about her dad being in heaven, and we always talk about her dad being above the clouds – that’s where heaven is,” 45-year-old Hollie said in an interview with weather.com in April 2018. “And I think mountains are very intriguing to her because a lot of them are above [the clouds].”

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As she grew older, Montannah started to gain an interest in triathlons, ultimately following the path that her mother had once taken. According to Hollie, her daughter has won several events as a young triathlete, including a number of swimming competitions. With that in mind, the now seven-year-old’s eyes lit up when she overheard a conversation in 2017.

A few years ago, Hollie and her sister had discussed the idea of taking on one of the toughest challenges in the world – climbing Mount Kilimanjaro. When the latter pulled out, the 45-year-old swim coach then asked if any of her friends wanted to take her sister’s place. And after listening to her mom talk about it, an intrigued Montannah decided to step up.

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“[Montannah] said to me, ‘Mommy I want to do it too,’” Hollie told ABC News in April 2018. “I didn’t discount what she said but I knew she didn’t know the magnitude. So, we started researching it and looking at videos. I was very real with her, explaining that people can get very sick, that we’d have to train very hard and that it wouldn’t be an easy task.”

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However, despite her words of caution, Hollie believed that time was on their side. That’s because, during her research, the mom discovered that climbers had to be at least ten years old to summit Kilimanjaro, giving them the next three years to prepare. As time went on, though, the ex-triathelete started to see conflicting reports on the matter.

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Hollie had heard of children younger than ten trekking up the African mountain, but in January 2018 her mindset completely changed. The Austin native discovered a report about an eight-year-old girl from Florida who, in 2017, had successfully climbed to Kilimanjaro’s peak. With that in mind, she approached her daughter on the subject again the following day.

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“I woke up Montannah the next morning and said, ‘If you want this record, we have to go when you’re still seven,’” Hollie told ABC News. “I knew that she had spring break in March and we planned the entire trip in a month-and-a-half.” With their plans in place, then, the pair started to train for the massive challenge ahead.

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Thanks to some help from a fellow triathlete, Hollie found a guide who was able to pull a few strings. Crucially, the guide got permission for Montannah to climb the mountain while under the minimum age. From there, the mom and daughter team began a grueling training schedule. This entailed weekend hikes lasting up to eight hours and shorter treks during the week while the little girl was at school.

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Knowing that Montannah was still in the second grade, Hollie mixed things up on their long hikes. The coach would test her daughter’s math and spelling skills while trekking. “When [Montannah] decided to do this, I knew what kind of training she needed to do, and I didn’t want to rob her of her childhood over that month-and-a-half,” Hollie recalled.

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However, the Montannah’s motivation for the climb changed after revisiting a conversation with her mother. “When we talked about the mountain being above the clouds, she immediately associated that with heaven and it resonated with her,” Hollie told ABC News. “She loved that idea of being closer to her dad and asked me if she was going to be able to see him.”

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Despite all their training, though, Hollie made one thing perfectly clear. “For a child with a developing brain, I was not going to risk anything,” the mom told weather.com. “If she had any issues, where the average adult probably would have pushed through it, I was going to take her back down [the mountain].”

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With a guide in place and a group of over 20 people to provide support, Montannah and Hollie began their ascent of Kilimanjaro in March 2018. And although the summit was over 19,300 feet away, the seven-year-old kept her spirits up throughout the journey.

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“Every day I asked Montannah if this was harder or easier than she thought it would be and every day she answered, ‘Easier,’” Hollie recalled to ABC News. After six days of climbing, the pair finally reached the summit, but actually it had been far from easy. The weather had proved especially tough, and had left the mom and daughter duo in an uncomfortable position on the final day.

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“Everything was wet by summit day,” Hollie said. “We were putting on wet clothes, wet boots, my hair was frozen, our [water containers] were frozen.” Despite all that, though, the mom and daughter duo achieved their goal of conquering Kilimanjaro on March 16, 2018, with Montannah keeping an eye out for her dad at the summit.

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Unsurprisingly, this had been a record-breaking climb by the seven-year-old Austin native, who was just two months away from turning eight at the time. Indeed, the Climb Mount Kilimanjaro group confirmed that Montannah was the youngest girl ever to reach the mountain’s summit, rounding off an incredible journey.

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However, this wasn’t just about breaking an impressive record. Montannah and Hollie’s trek up Kilimanjaro also raised funds for EMDR therapy, a cause close to both of their hearts following their tragic loss in 2013. After the climb, they spent the next two weeks exploring Africa, taking in the sights and sounds of the incredible continent.

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When reflecting on the climb, Hollie noted the potential significance it could have on her daughter in the years to come. “This was really a cool thing for her, and it’s kind of setting her up in life for some pretty amazing things,” Hollie told ABC News. “To be able to provide the ability for Montannah to follow a dream that she wants to do, there’s no price tag.”

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Clearly, losing a parent at a young age can be devastating for the child in question. For seven-year-old Montannah Kenney, though, some good came out of that tragic day in 2013. Indeed, the death of her father spurred Montannah on to achieve something that won’t ever be forgotten. She faced down the challenge of Mount Kilimanjaro – and won.

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