Wild Women: Di Westaway’s daredevil job

January 12, 2018
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EVERYTHING ached and tears streamed down Di Westaway’s cheeks as she battled her way through freezing wind along an exposed ridge on a 7000-metre Nepalese mountain with an invisible drop on both sides.

At that moment, she recalls wondering: “I’m a mother of three, what am I doing here?”

Di, from Sydney, pushes herself to her limits for a living, but climbing Ama Dablam to perform the world’s highest handstand at the summit at the age of 52 was perhaps the most extreme. “A couple of people have died on the mountain,” she told news.com.au. “The challenge, physically and emotionally, was quite extreme.

“When you get to high camp you had to wake up in the middle of the night and melt snow for fluids. There were three of us in a teeny tiny tent no bigger than a single bed. It took two hours to get drinks in, crampons on, harness on. About 2 or 2.30, you start heading to the summit. At that point I was within range, and I sent a message to a friend: ‘Why am I doing this?’”

But she did it, although she cried all the way back down. “I was frightened, I couldn’t see, my glasses were fogging,” she says. “I felt really alone. I just sobbed for about three hours and crying is the worst thing you can do.”

Di, now 57, has one of the coolest jobs in the world. She’s a professional adventurer, and spends her time planning, promoting and carrying out challenges. When we speak, the CEO at Wild Women On Top is in the middle of a wilderness first aid training course, and just finished dealing with a hypothetical gas explosion and badly broken leg at a camp in Bowral, NSW. “I do lead an adventurous life,” she says. “Any opportunity, I do. Hike, rock climbing, kayaking … I might just take an hour to do something with friends.”

Every month, Di goes on a “wild weekend” — a mini-challenge such as camping in the Blue Mountains, abseiling or bike riding. Every quarter, she goes on a longer trip, such as a ski trip or surf-skiing on the Ningaloo Reef, which she’s learning ahead of a trip in May.

And every year, she leads groups on a major adventure: this August, she’s hiking through volcanoes in Iceland.

But Di says anyone can experience that thrill, and has made it her mission to encourage women in particular to start exercising and enjoying Australia’s magnificent natural environment. “Hike every week, puff every day,” she says. “My great passion is getting women off the couch and into nature.

“What most mums find is once you have children, your health goes to the bottom of the list — ‘I haven’t got time to eat well, let alone exercise.’ You can go for a walk. You must.”

The businesswoman, who has the official title ‘Chief Adventure Chick’, spent five weeks acclimatising to the altitude in Nepal before her biggest adventure, and months before in training, but says it doesn’t have to be that hard.

“Being in nature is deeply good for you,” she added. “You don’t have to go mad, just go up some hills. If there’s no wilderness nearby, go into backyard and do push-ups.”

She credits her discovery of real adventure after 40 — when she headed to the Andes to climb the highest mountain in the southern hemisphere, Aconcagua — with helping her through a difficult divorce.

Di always has an adventure planned, and says that’s what provides the motivation to exercise as well as something to look forward to. She’s currently planning her organisation’s annual 60-kilometre Coastreks in Sydney, Melbourne and the Sunshine Coast, as well as a hiking trip in southwest Tasmania. “If there’s enough space, I’m going to do a handstand — not because I want to show off, it’s because I want to inspire people,” she says. “Hiking’s starting to get a bit trendy since the Cheryl Strayed book Wild. Sarah Wilson’s doing it, Lorna Jane’s doing it …

“It’s totally body positive, because it doesn’t matter what you look like, what you wear, it matters how you feel. When you go hiking you get happy.

“When you go running or go outside if you’re having a bad day, you get your head clear, you solve the world’s problems.”

emma.reynolds@news.com.au | @emmareyn

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