Taking Fuller Village’s theme, “Live a Fuller Life,” to new heights was done literally by four of the community’s residents who spent two days climbing to the top of Mount Washington, the highest point on the East coast.

In 2023, Nancy Wilbur, Mary Ann Millsap, Jane Cotter, Barbara Cocci, Irene Brannelly and Nancy Wilbur trained by hiking over 40 miles of trails, spending approximately 200 collective hours in Fuller Village’s fitness center during which time they probably completed about 3,742 squats. As Mary Ann noted, “with proper training and support, we elders can do most anything, even climb a mountain!.”

As members of the Fuller Village Adventure Club, formed by Jen DeLeonardis, the community’s Fitness Director, these women, along with Jen and her partner, Professor Robert Rennan hiked five miles during the two-day climb which included a 3,250 -foot gain in elevation and an overnight stay in bunk beds at the Lake of the Clouds hut before reaching the 6,288’ summit on August 4, 2023.

Each person carried their own clothing, equipment, water and snacks in their backpacks. As Jen noted, a challenge like this requires both mental and physical preparation. Maintaining and building on a solid fitness base is critical including cardiovascular, strength and endurance training. But an individual’s determination and desire are most important, noted Jen.

Barbara said, “I remain astounded by the teamwork and spirit exhibited 24/7 by our group. I have played on many teams but never have I experienced such camaraderie, generosity, and kindness over and over.”

Stopping for a group photo on day one of the climb were (left to right): Nancy Wilbur, Mary Ann Millsap, Jane Cotter, Barbara Cocci, Jen DeLeonardis and Irene Brannelly.

Although Nancy was unable to make the complete two-day climb for personal reasons, she had trained with her fellow climbers for months so after climbing two miles on the first day, she took the cog railway to the top on the second day to celebrate her fellow hikers’ achievement.

Although the weather on the second day’s climb as they approached the summit included dense fog, precipitation, windchills around 30 degrees a single clap of thunder, the overall experience and sense of accomplishment was, in a word, “fabulous,” Jen said.

Jen and her partner Robert are no strangers to mountain climbing. They have successfully climbed the top 100 peaks in Maine, New Hampshire and Vermont, many of which were finished during the heart of the COVID-19 pandemic. “During that time, many people were forced to shelter in place, but I was fortunate to be able to ‘shelter in nature,’” Jen remarked.

Jen and Robert’s experience and guidance were appreciated by all the hikers. “We had a wonderful coach and assistant coach. Jen always believed we could do it even when we may have doubted it and Robert was always ready to offer a hand up, explain and teach. It was an honor to share this once in a lifetime experience with such kind, supportive and patient people,” commented Jane.

Celebrating reaching the Mount Washington summit were (left to right): Robert Rennan, Barbara Cocci, Mary Ann Millsap, Jane Cotter, Irene Brannelly and Fuller Village Fitness Director Jen DeLeonardis.

Irene echoed Jane’s feelings about the experience. “Did I ever think that I would be climbing Mount Washington? Definitely not! Will we ever sleep in a hut with ninety people, no electricity, no hot water or climb the second half of the mountain in the rain, fog, and fierce wind? Probably not. However, there is one thing I can say, we have all formed a bond that will last a lifetime and we will never forget this phenomenal adventure.

Nancy Wilbur, who participated in all the training and did the first day of the climb, noted, “I was totally delighted to join my fellow hikers and walk the trail with them the first day. I got to be with the group and really participate. I also did the hike that was right for me.” She then joined the group at the summit on the second day taking the cog railway to the top. A ride that all the hikers thoroughly enjoyed on the trip down.

What’s next for the Fuller Village Adventure Club’s 10 members? While no plans have yet been set for Summer of 2024, the Fuller Village hikers are eagerly anticipating a new challenge to strive towards in the coming months.