FEATURED FEBRUARY 2011 GUEST: Lona Parten
Co-Founder of The 1st LT Tyler Parten Foundation
"A leader is one who knows the way, goes the way and
shows the way." - John Maxwell
©Michael Brown: Soldiers to the Summit expedition team; Nepal 2010
Q: You recently returned from the climbing and filming expedition, Soldiers to the Summit, that took place in the Himalayan mountains of Nepal. Tell us more about this extraordinary journey and how you become involved.
A: It’s odd sometimes how things come about. My oldest son, 1st LT Tyler Parten, had climbed Mount Kilimanjaro in Africa after his 2007 West Point graduation with his younger brother, Daniel. He had always talked about it being a life-changing event for him. He was planning to climb it again upon his return from his deployment in Afghanistan. He had discussed it with me and a few of his friends and some of us even said we would go along. He had many dreams and this was just one.
After Tyler was killed in Afghanistan in September 2009, I knew I was going to take on Mount Kilimanjaro in his honor. I contacted Jeff Evans,
of Mountain-Vision, the guide service my sons had used in 2007 and told him to fix me up. It was during our "pre-Kili" training climb in Colorado in June 2010 with Jeff and others that I learned of the upcoming "Soldiers to the Summit" Expedition.
Jeff was part of the original climbing team that helped the first blind person, Eric Weihenmayer, to reach the summit of Mt. Everest. Michael Brown filmed this and the documentary "Farther than the Eye Could See" went global. The group wanted, for their 10-year reunion of this historic summit, to give back. They were working with World TEAM Sports, a non-profit organization that organizes and hosts a myriad of challenging sporting events, to do something spectacular with the disabled population.
Jeff explained to me that somewhere during that time Tyler was killed others on the team had thought of doing something with the disabled military veterans and the idea grew. After talking with Jeff and then with Jeff Messner of World TEAM Sports I decided to join. I wanted to represent a side of war tragedy as a family member of the fallen: the ones that don’t return.
When this happens lives are forever changed and I wanted to
bring awareness to this.
“Among the many tragedies of war are the serious injuries inflicted upon
our soldiers. When they return home, these heroes often have
disabilities that may seem insurmountable. The goal of the Soldiers to
the Summit Himalayan Expedition(SSHE) and World TEAM Sports is to
demonstrate to everyone that great things can be achieved no matter how high the obstacles.” - ©Soldiers to the Summit
See Lona Parten in this video footage from Soldiers to the Summit and Veterans Day Tribute
©Lona Parten; Daniel Parten, Lona Parten, Anna Laura Parten and Tyler Parten
Q: What kind of challenges, both mental and physical, did you face compared to your climb on Kilimanjaro?
A: Oh my goodness! These were two totally different experiences. I did the Mount Kilimanjaro climb for myself and for Tyler. Nepal was for others! I had made friends with part of the group climbing Kilimanjaro prior but knew no one, other than Jeff, going into Nepal. Physically I was fine. Don’t take that statement wrong though. Anytime you get to that kind of altitude it's going to be tough, but I was strong from years of exercise and had really trained hard.
I had come back from Africa and had only 4 weeks to recover before Nepal. I was drained and had to gear back up. Jeff knew Nepal was going to be emotionally tough for me and tried to prep me prior to the trip. My heart was still so tender from the death of my son and I had broken down several times in Africa.
It’s funny! I earned the nickname “Mama Simba” from the African guides and porters on the climb. It means “Mama Lion” and I knew I was a fighter but wasn’t sure how far I could push myself. I have to say Nepal was more of an emotionally challenging trek for me because of the length of time and video interviews. I would listen to the veteran’s stories and my heart hurt for them, their families, my other children, my family, and myself.
All I could think about was “If Tyler had returned home without a limb or two, with his and my determination, he would be climbing mountains.” I had to draw inward many times. Looking back, I'm really surprised I endured the physical and emotional challenges in those three months of Africa to Nepal.
©Daniel Parten; 1st Lt Tyler Parten
Q: What was the most important part of the journey for you?
A: To live!! To show that life has to continue on. Life is for living and caring for others. I have to walk the walk not just talk it!
Q: Tell us about The Tyler Parten Foundation. The mission, how people can get involved, and perhaps if it made you look at the children in Africa and Nepal in a special way?
A: The desire for a foundation was set within two days of Tyler’s death. It was actually his sister, Anna Laura, (18 at the time) who came up with the idea during the flight to Dover Air Force Base with me to welcome his body back to American soil. We had already discussed the fact that people would want to do something in his honor and money and flowers didn’t seem appropriate. That wasn’t Tyler.
She was talking with one of the pilots about this and he suggested we start a foundation. We agreed Tyler would feel the same so we put the word out immediately upon return and opened an account called “The 1st LT Tyler Parten Memorial Fund.”
The legalities and mission statement came about two weeks later. After
reading his emails again and pouring over his Afghanistan photos and
comments on Facebook it came to us. Children! Tyler was a world
traveler. He was fluent in Arabic but could speak other languages as
well and he always took time for children no matter where he went.
While in Afghanistan, as he led his platoon in remote villages he
befriended the children first, then the elders warmed to him and his men
which opened up dialogues between them.
He stated,“I’ve had many opportunities to interact with the children which are the future of this country. And so I always try to show them a little affection. Seeing them interact with Americans for the first time puts a smile on my face. Ignorance breeds hatred and education is the answer. If not, we will be fighting for generations to come.” ©2009 Tyler Parten Initiatives
So the mission statement: "To promote peace one child at a time.”
That’s what it’s all about.
Through books or even improving school conditions, one child at a time,
we will try to show that Americans care, in Tyler’s honor. I certainly
thought of this while traveling. Especially in Nepal while trekking from
one village to the next knowing I was only one country over from where
my son lost his life. I remember thinking, “How many children grow up
never knowing anything but their surrounding valley?” The simplicity
of their lifestyle was beautiful. That I couldn’t deny. But sometimes
the ramifications can be deadly if that child grows up only knowing one
thing. We can see it in America as well. We aren’t immune. Education
IS the answer.
©Tyler Parten Initiatives: 1st Lt Tyler Parten
Q: What helps you get through the tough times and how do you make the most of the best times?
A: Wow! This is a tough one. To be perfectly honest, during the toughest times right after his death I turned to prescription drugs, like Xanax and sleeping pills. I don’t recommend this to anyone but I did it. The months right after were horrible and I couldn’t seem to function without them. A time came several months later that I made a conscious choice to rid my body of the drugs. I remember flushing them down the toilet but then
the heartache really set in.
Though I had numbed the pain for a while I knew I was emotionally
stronger and had to experience it. It’s part of the process of healing.
Today, when the tough times hit, I don’t stay down long. I'm learning ways to pull myself out of it. Music is a huge part. We are a musical family and I draw on that.
When it comes to the best times, I try to absorb everything about that
moment and burn it into my memory. I take in the sights, the sounds,
the smells and the feeling of the environment around me and close my
eyes to absorb it all. I can’t tell you how many times I’ve done this
over the years and I can recall memories of special times like it was
yesterday. As a matter of fact, Tara, Daniel’s new wife, (both 2nd LT's)
told me Daniel shared that with her the first weekend they met. They
were standing on top of a mountain in Ecuador and he taught her how to
burn that moment into her memory. That’s pretty special, huh?
©Lona Parten; Nepal 2010
Q: You recently went skydiving for the first time! What was that
like...and would you do it again?
A: Oh my goodness! That was crazy! My son, his wife and my daughter did it last summer so I thought I would give it one shot.
My birthday was in a few days so I thought “what a birthday gift.” So this past Thanksgiving my daughter, her boyfriend and I jumped tandem.
YIKES!!! 14,700 feet up, 60 second, 2-mile free fall at 120 miles per
hour! I never opened my eyes until the chute opened and I really thought
I was going to die during the fall. I was so afraid that if I did open
my eyes, I would freak out and then mess up the guy I was jumping with
and I surely didn’t want that. Would I do it again? Not unless my life depended on it. Ha! I survived this one, landed safely, so I’m not
pushing my luck!!
©Lona Parten: Lona on her first skydiving adventure!
Q: What new adventures do you have planned on the horizon?
A: I have nothing planned at the moment though I keep my eyes and ears open all the time. Daniel and Tara just got married right before Christmas and with holiday travels I think I’m still recovering. One place on my bucket list though is Machu Picchu in South America.
I don’t know when but I’m pretty sure, Lord willing, I’ll get there.
Q: If every person could strengthen just ONE quality that would change the world in a profound way, what would it be?
A: If every person could strengthen their ability to step outside of their
selves, the world would be a better place. Imagine that. Every person
putting others before themselves. What a beautiful concept. *
To learn more about Lona and her inspiring journey please visit: http://www.lonasvoice.com