August 30, 2013

‘Capacity to dream’: Faith, hope and love fuel mountain climber’s passion to reach new heights

Walter Glover points to Cathedral Gap on Mount Rainier, the latest mountain he attempted to climb in June. The member of St. Bartholomew Parish in Columbus has spent the past six years trying to climb on the Seven Summits—the highest mountains on each of the seven continents. (Submitted photo)

Walter Glover points to Cathedral Gap on Mount Rainier, the latest mountain he attempted to climb in June. The member of St. Bartholomew Parish in Columbus has spent the past six years trying to climb on the Seven Summits—the highest mountains on each of the seven continents. (Submitted photo)

By John Shaughnessy

COLUMBUS—The heartbreak would come in the morning, but on this June evening—11,000 feet up a mountain—Walter Glover could only think of all the places his amazing dream had taken him so far.

Resting in a camp on Mount Rainier in the state of Washington, the 65-year-old Glover looked up at the top of the snow-covered mountain that rose 14,411 feet high.

The member of St. Bartholomew Parish in Columbus also looked back on the dream he had started in 2007—to climb on the Seven Summits, the highest mountains on each of the seven continents.

He had already experienced the exhilaration of reaching the summits of Mount Kilimanjaro in Africa, Mount Elbrus in Europe and Mount Kosciuszko in Australia.

When he was 63, he had also climbed up 21,063 feet of the 22,841 feet of Mount Aconcagua in South America before health concerns forced him to turn back. By then, he had also reached his intended goal on Mount Everest in Asia—trekking to the base camp at 17,600 feet while realizing that the summit of 29,035 feet was a destiny for only the most elite climbers.

In making those five mountain climbs, the now retired pastoral care chaplain of St. Vincent Health had raised more than $100,000 to help address the health issue of childhood obesity.

In those journeys, he had also fulfilled a special mission that touched the parents he counsels in Wings for the Journey—a group for mothers and fathers whose children have died.

Before he climbed a mountain, Glover told the parents, “If you believe heaven is above us, you can’t get any closer to heaven than mountains. I’m going to say ‘hi’ to all of your kids by name because I’ll be that close to them.”

As he went to sleep that June night, Glover felt in his heart that he would reach the summit of Mount Rainier the next day. It was a natural part of the way he approaches life, an approach he calls the “Capacity to Dream.”

An unusual call to the mountains

Glover has always had the will to push his body, mind and spirit to pursue his dreams.

“The Apostle Paul talks about our bodies being temples of the Holy Spirit,” he says. “We’re made in God’s image—body, mind and spirit—and we want to take care of them.”

The father of two grown children has completed 51 mini-marathons, running the 13.1-mile races. In nine years of riding a bicycle, he logged more than 60,000 miles—the equivalent of twice around the equator. He is also an accomplished skier.

Yet even with that intense athletic background and his capacity to dream, Glover backed away from his first “call” to climb mountains.

It happened in 2005 when he was checking a website about Mount Everest and the people who attempt to climb it.

“It’s 5 ½ miles high, and I’m fascinated,” he recalls. “As I’m reading about it, a voice says, ‘You know, you could do that.’ I just blew the voice off. And the voice didn’t argue with me.

“Fast forward 12 months to the peak climbing season at Everest. The voice returns, and it says with more urgency and resolve, ‘You know, you can do that. You can trek to Everest base camp.’

“This time, I said, ‘Yeah, I can do it.’ ”

He put the bike aside and put on the hiking boots and the backpack, even filling it with the weight he would carry on Everest as he mowed the grass at his home in the summer of 2006.

In April 2007, he successfully climbed to the base camp of Everest. And even though the climb left him so physically depleted that it took several weeks for him to recover, he was hooked.

He set his sights on the 19,340-foot summit of Mount Kilimanjaro in Africa.

He also started his campaign to use his mountain climbing to raise money to fight childhood obesity through the hospitals where he worked as a chaplain—St. Vincent Dunn, St. Vincent Jennings and St. Vincent Salem.

The scare of a lifetime

Before his journey to Mount Rainier this June, Glover had been there in September of 2012—a climb he hoped would prepare him for the sixth summit on his list: Mount McKinley or Denali, the highest mountain in North America at 20,320 feet.

Yet during that 2012 climb of Mount Rainier, Glover fell, landing on his chest against an ice pinnacle. He tried to continue but ended his training when he couldn’t put on his climbing harness. X-rays at the mountain’s hospital showed he had broken a few ribs. Tests also showed a frightening reality that Glover learned for the first time:

He had three aneurysms—one in his stomach, one in his intestines and one in his heart.

Returning to Columbus, Glover met with his doctor, and open heart surgery was scheduled. During his time in the hospital, the grandfather put up photos that showed him standing atop the summits of Mount Kilimanjaro and Mount Elbrus.

“It was setting a benchmark for me to return to the level of wellness I had before the fall,” he says. “I knew I was going back to the mountains.”

That approach of reaching for more—and helping others as he does—mark Glover in ways that go beyond his mountain climbing efforts.

“Whatever Wally is interested in, he gives 200 percent,” says one of his friends, Daughters of Charity Sister Sharon Richardt.

They first met 15 years ago when the Jennings County hospital where Glover worked was becoming part of the larger St. Vincent Health, for which Sister Sharon served as the chief mission integration officer at the time. Sister Sharon soon noticed the faith and compassion of Glover—then a physician recruiter—and asked him about becoming a pastoral care chaplain for the hospital.

Glover made the move and made a difference for 15 years as a chaplain before retiring earlier this year on April 25, the feast day of St. Vincent de Paul.

“Wally has a very strong faith life,” says Greg Scherschel, a member of St. Bartholomew Parish in Columbus who grew up with Glover in Bedford. “Years ago, he and I went down to Saint Meinrad [Archabbey] for a retreat. We thought this is such a good thing that we should do it for other men. We put together a retreat for men from St. Bartholomew that has been going on for about 20 years now.

“He puts everything into something he believes in.”

Where joy and heartbreak meet

That faith guides Glover as he begins each day reading from the Bible.

“I want my eyes to fall on Scripture first thing in the morning,” says Glover, who carries a Bible with him during his trips up the mountains.

One of his favorite passages is, “Blessed are the feet on the mountain of him that brings good news” (Is 52:7).

The news on the morning of June 17 wouldn’t be good for Glover.

It would be heartbreaking.

As he prepared for the last day of climbing on the five-day journey to the summit of Mount Rainier, Glover sensed that he wasn’t feeling strong enough to finish the climb. At his guide’s urging, he tried anyway. Yet as he began the ascent, his instincts were confirmed. He couldn’t keep up, so he reluctantly chose to go back down.

His ascent had ended at a section of Mount Rainier called Disappointment Cleaver.

“When we got down to the bottom, I told my guide, ‘I just think I need to cry myself to sleep,’ ” Glover recalls.

From all his years of helping others through their times of grief, he knew he had to embrace the heartbreak associated with one of the great dreams of his life coming to an end.

“Climbing on the Seven Summits has been a wonderful, motivating thing for me,” he says. “I knew I will not be climbing Denali, and I won’t be going to Antarctica.”

In the midst of the devastation, he still found a source of hope that has often sustained him.

Continuing to dream

On the morning of June 18, Glover woke up to watch one of his favorite views—sunrise. He also whispered a saying that has become a daily part of his life:

“I will greet the new sun with confidence that this will be the best day of my life,” he recalls saying. “Those are actually the words of Ogmandino from The Greatest Salesman on Earth. No matter how good or bad yesterday was, I will greet the new day as the best day of my life.”

As Glover talked, he sat in the kitchen of his Columbus home, a place filled with photographs of the seven mountains that have been his inspiration and his dream for the past seven years.

Through those seven mountains, he has experienced fear and awe, struggle and success, heartbreak and exhilaration—the extremes that touch most people’s lives.

Through those seven mountains, he has also rediscovered the foundations that allow people to keep enduring, to keep reaching in life—faith, hope and love.

“Faith and love are cornerstone words,” Glover says. “Hope is a bridge word that connects the faith side with the love side. It’s important to have all three pieces. We have to have those in concert, in balance.

“A mature faith has hope and the compassion to forgive and love. That is a guiding principle for me.”

So is looking forward to another dream.

Glover has started writing a book about his adventures in pursuit of trying to climb on the Seven Summits. He has also set his sights on the mountains of Colorado.

“There are 50 mountains there that are 14,000 feet or a little higher. You can reach their summits in a day or two,” he says with a gleam in his eyes.

“That’s what the new days hold for me—continuing to inspire others to their optimal living. It’s about the capacity to dream. We hold ourselves back when we don’t dream. I’ve learned not to cut off the voice in mid-sentence.” †

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