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Straight for the Top
Photo: Dawn Allynn
In elementary school Danielle Fisher began struggling with her grades. By high school it had become a full-fledged battle, and when college rolled around, this Washington State University student’s grades were so low that after her first year she had to get special permission in order to return. Taking some time off, Danielle eventually found her solution, the secret that would earn her better grades, inner peace, and international recognition: Danielle Fisher got serious about getting high.

Danielle’s lofty accomplishments, scaling more than 120,000 feet in her short-lived career, have earned her a world record as the youngest person in history to climb the highest mountain on each of the seven continents. McKinley, Kilimanjaro, Vinson—if it’s big, rocky, and dangerous, chances are this fiery redhead has already dominated it on her way to success. “I enjoy the whole part of climbing, even all of the struggles,” she comments, “but when you make it to the top, that’s just huge.”

Danielle’s ascent to the top hasn’t always been a smooth one. Diagnosed with Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder (ADHD) in the sixth grade, Danielle spent years searching for the right therapy that would allow her to concentrate on simple tasks. “ADHD makes it really hard for me to focus on things like homework and taking out the trash, doing chores,” she says. “It’s so hard for some people to understand how debilitating ADHD is in that way. It’s just hard. You can have every good intention. You can want it and you still can’t make yourself do those mundane things.”

Bouncing from medicine to medicine, tutor to tutor, Danielle continued to watch her grades plummet, as well as her confidence. “When I was diagnosed, I thought I would be cured with medication, but I didn’t notice a difference,” she recounts. “The thing is, you often don’t feel a difference; it’s the people around you who notice a difference, who realize that it’s easier to talk to you, to get along with you….It was kind of difficult getting diagnosed, thinking everything was going to be better, and feeling just the same.”

Channel Physical and Mental Engeries

It was, in fact, a feeling that would teach Danielle to channel her physical and mental energies. While training for her school’s cross-country team, she decided to go on a recreational climbing trip through the Cascades with her father, an avid mountain climber. “The first time I did it, we climbed a few peaks and I hated it. Then we climbed Mount Baker, then Mount Adams, and I still hated it,” Danielle remembers. “Then, by the end of summer, we decided to climb Mount Rainier. It was the hardest mountain I had ever climbed.”

While summiting Rainier, Danielle noticed that her attitude began to change, as did her attention span. “You have so much adrenaline going through your system,” she says. “When you reach the top, it feels wonderful because you succeeded in a goal that you’ve set out to do. You didn’t turn back. You didn’t think about turning back.” From there Danielle was addicted to the rock, taking on bigger, badder challenges including Mount Aconcagua, the highest mountain in the Southern Hemisphere, standing at an astounding 22,841 feet above sea level. With every mountain conquered, Danielle slowly learned to use her passion for climbing as a way to improve her ability to concentrate. “You don’t ever have any problems in the mountains, because your brain is kept excited,” Danielle states. “ I have a passion for [climbing] and because of the need to focus, I’m able to focus.”

After tackling Mount Aconcagua at 17, Danielle learned that the youngest person to finish the Seven Summits had done so at the age of 23, leaving her just five years to plan, train, and raise funds for six major trips—all while finishing up high school, applying to colleges, and preparing for her freshman year. Putting her dreams on hold, she headed off to Washington State University for a rocky freshman year. She comments, “My first year was horrible. I went down to a 2.0 [grade point average], which meant that I was deficient and I had to be reinstated at school. That’s how difficult it was.” Barely passing, Danielle took a year off of school to collect herself and fulfill her climbing goals. Taking out a loan from her parents and raising $30,000 on her own, Danielle spent the next year finding sponsors and summiting cliffs in exotic locations. She used her climbing experiences to practice focusing her attention for longer periods of time. By the next fall she was ready for Washington State, a brand new year, and the mother lode of climbs: Mount Everest.

Returning to school with more confidence, concrete goals, and a few new tricks up her sleeve, Danielle set her sights on the future and began making the grades she always wanted. “I’ve been able to focus this year because I was essentially practicing being able to focus when (I was) climbing. I can concentrate. I can make myself sit down and do my homework this year,” she says. “I’m still a freshman in college, and I’m getting better grades than I’ve ever gotten in my life.”

After battling with herself for so long, Danielle claims that the two-month-long Everest climb she made the following summer was a breeze by comparison. She credits her success to her unstoppable determination, parental support, and her clean lifestyle. “Drugs and climbing don’t mix. I abstain from any substance besides my medication,” she says. “I also try to stay in shape throughout the year.”

Just because she holds the world record, don’t think you’ve heard the last of Danielle Fisher. Currently pursuing a degree in material science engineering, she plans on climbing Pakistan’s Gasherbrum 1 (26,470 feet) and Gasherbrum 2 (26,360) this coming summer. She continues to raise funds as well as ADHD awareness. “I went after my passion and I succeeded,” she says with happiness and pride. “It just feels so great to make it.”

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By Christina Couch. Reprinted with permission from Listen, December 2006. Copyright © 2007 by GraceNotes. All rights reserved. Use of this material is subject to usage guidelines.

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