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She never had time for fitness, but now Farah’s racing to become the first Kuwaiti woman to climb the world’s seven tallest mountains. Particularly impressive considering she’s afraid of heights
"It kind of started by accident, and I give credit to one of my friends,” she says. “I would see him on Instagram doing these hikes; I always wanted to go but never had the time. So, one time he sent me a message saying ‘Why don’t you come?’ It was a national holiday in Kuwait, and I was free, so I registered to go.”
Before the hike, Farah – who has worked at Siemens for five years – considered herself reasonably fit. She didn’t exercise much, but she expected to be able to keep up with the group. However, all didn’t quite go to plan. “It was a big wake-up call. I couldn’t do it. I was very tired when we hiked to the highest peak, I could barely reach half way. I was completely breathless.” Defeated and deflated, she could have drawn a line under the whole experience and ditched her hiking boots for good. Instead, she decided to act – and fast.
Upon returning home to Kuwait, she joined the gym and started training five times a week. Despite her busy work schedule, she made time for regular weekend hikes and completely overhauled her diet. “I was almost 100kg,” she says. “I couldn’t even run. I will never forget having to do the fitness test in the gym. I could barely do 34 seconds of continuous running on the treadmill.”
She set herself the ultimate challenge. Along with a group of friends, she created a pact to climb the seven tallest mountains across the globe. It’s a challenge that no Kuwaiti woman has completed. “There are now several women that are moving towards that goal,” she says. “Let’s see who does it. Regardless, it doesn’t really make a difference if you’re the first one or the second one, but to just have this many females achieving this is great. It’s really historic and for sure would be a very proud achievement.”
Farah has given herself four years to complete the mission. No mean feat, even for the most experienced of adventurers. “It’s a bit extreme, but it’s a goal. We worked with a few international organizations to find the best plan for people who are starting out. It’s an ambitious goal, but it’s completely doable,” she says.
Farah has completed two of the seven mountains: Elbrus in Russia and Kilimanjaro in Tanzania. She will also need to tackle Everest in Nepal, Aconcagua in Argentina, Denali in Alaska, Vinson Massif in Antarctica and Carstensz in Indonesia.
You really can do anything. Not like the cliché; you really, really can. You just do it, take your time, and it’s going to happen
It hasn’t been easy, especially as Farah battles a fear of heights. She says, “I didn’t even know I had a fear of heights because I never went on anything high.” How things have changed.
As she approached Mount Elbrus’ summit, she was overcome with fear when a snowy path became so narrow it was impossible to place both feet next to each other. She says, “I thought - ‘This is not normal.’ Then you think - ‘It’s okay, you can do it, take one step at a time and just move.’ I have this fear I have to overcome on every hike, but I’m hoping it gets better with time.”
With the help of her mountain guide, she made it. But that night, she was unable to sleep due to the adrenaline pumping through her body. “We were freezing cold, I couldn’t feel the tips of my fingers and I had three layers of gloves on. We were in the snow cap and I had my headphones on just listening to a song on repeat - I couldn’t change the song because I was wearing these huge mittens.” She lay there thinking, “What am I doing here? Why? I can go anywhere. I can sit in the Bahamas and I’m here. It’s cold and I don’t know what’s going to happen, but okay.” The sense of achievement when she reached the summit of the highest mountain in Russia made it all worthwhile - plus, she now knows every word of the song; “Hallelujah” by Logic.
Farah shows what can be achieved if you tread new ground. Grasping new opportunities does not faze her; she thrives in the face of change. The same is true in her professional role as Country Head of Supply Chain Management & Facility Management at Siemens, Kuwait. Her responsibilities include supporting business divisions to procure materials or services - anything from stationery down to transport, logistics for transformers and container cargo or manpower.
When asked about the favorite aspect of her role, she says, “It’s really that every single day is different, and you never have the same kind of problem or challenge - your learning curve is great.” After five years with the company, she relishes the fact that no day has ever been the same.
For Farah, success is reflected in this ability to change and progress. She says, “Success is if I am doing something I love to do, and I’m satisfied with where I am and what I’m doing - and I feel like I am. I am actually doing something where there is a difference to be made, and it’s not just a routine thing.” Ultimately, she conquers her job in the same way she conquers mountains - with fierce determination, drive, and discipline.
Her advice to someone ready to try something new? “You really can do anything. Not like the cliché; you really, really can. You just do it, take your time, and it’s going to happen.”
Farah AlShaikh is Country Head of Supply Chain Management & Facility Management at Siemens, Kuwait. She has worked at Siemens for more than five years.