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REACHING NEW HEIGHTS: Mount Kilimanjaro is the latest summit a Holbrook woman has conquered
Lashley, 51, works as exhibit maintenance specialist at the Museum of Science in Boston. “There are so many African-Americans who would love to go to the roof of Africa, but can’t make it,” Lashley said. “I said to myself, ‘You have to do this.’” Photo by Greg Derr

At the end of an eight-day climb, Roxanne Lashley felt on top of the world - and she was at nearly 20,000 feet high.

“Beautiful, oh, beautiful,” said Lashley of Holbrook, about her view from the summit of Mount Kilimanjaro in Tanzania. “It was everything I hoped for and more.”

A few weeks ago, Lashley realized a dream that began in 2002 while she was setting up lighting for a Museum of Science exhibit that accompanied an IMAX film about climbing Mount Kilimanjaro. Looking at all the photographs, Lashley decided she wanted to go to the continent of her ancestors and stand at its highest point. Last summer, the urge intensified.

“I was about to turn 51 and I knew I had to do this before my body quit on me,” said Lashley, who came to the United States at age 27 in 1983 from Guyana, South America, and is an exhibit maintenance specialist at the Museum of Science.

Trim and fit, Lashley seems to have boundless energy. A cyclist and former soccer player and referee, she works a second job in security at the Renaissance Marriott in Boston. To train for the trip, she would run up five flights of stairs and climb another 17 flights during her break. She also worked with a personal trainer once a week.

The build-up to the 55-mile trek was emotional. As she described her plan to carry the Holbrook town seal to the mountaintop, she unexpectedly became teary, held her face in her hands and wiped her eyes.

“Oh, boy, this is kind of hard,” said Lashley, who moved to Holbrook 17 years ago and lives with her mother and children, ages 21 and 20. “I can’t believe I got so emotional. Holbrook has been so good to us. When there are so many hard things in the world and people embrace you like they have, you get all choked up.” Describing her climb on her return home, Lashley recalled her excitement and relief the night before the final ascent, when she was just hours away from her goal after trekking through six climate zones.

“Deep inside, I knew I was going to make it. I had told my daughter that the spirit of my African ancestors would take me up, and I believed it,” Lashley said. “And I knew that my family and friends were depending on me. There are so many African-Americans who would love to go to the roof of Africa, but can’t make it. I said to myself, ‘You have to do this.’”

During the first three days, her muscles ached terribly; on another occasion she had breathing difficulties at night. But she was spared the altitude sickness, headaches and diarrhea suffered by some of the other 10 trekkers, who ranged from 23 to 61 years old and lived in California, Texas, Florida, New Jersey and Canada.

“I think all of us had some kind of pain, but it wasn’t too bad,” said Lashley, whose trip was organized by Thomson Safaris of Watertown.

The hikers gave each other lots of support at meals, eaten at a long table inside a tent and prepared by a team of porters, who also carried their gear.

“We came to know intimate details about everyone,” Lashley said. “If you were to grab each individual and say, ‘Tell me 10 things about Roxanne, they could rattle them off.” The toughest parts were climbing up an extremely steep section called Barranco Wall and coping with severe cold.

“It was straight up and I was so glad no one told me about it before, because I would have worried,” she said. “And the morning we started for the summit, I couldn’t feel my toes for the first hour.” Directly behind the guide, Lashley was the first in the group to reach the top. As she intended, she displayed the Holbrook town seal, as well as a flag of Guyana and the logo of the Museum of Science.

After a difficult, icy descent to the bottom, she received a completion certificate and learned she apparently was the first person from Guyana to summit.

“That was so exciting. I said, ‘You guys have been hanging out with someone who made history for her country,” Lashley said. “We were the kind of friends where you could say that. There was a lot of hugging and kissing.”

Reach Jody Feinberg at jfeinberg@ledger.com.