While working as a Health, Sport Science and Physical Education teacher in Bavaria, a sport accident in 2014 changed Jill’s life in a fraction of a second. The wake of a traumatic brain injury left her severely visually impaired and days from death. After more than 2 years in hospitals spread over 3 countries, she is embracing the life she nearly lost running in mountains around the world.

Jill Wheatley
Photo credit: @maximiliangierlphotography

I stumbled into Jill in Kathmandu late February while doing WFA training at Outdoor Adventure Center Nepal with Himalayan Medics. Having already participated in WAFA, Jill was helping improve the WFA curriculum. As we started to talk about things, our background and what we were up to, I was drawn towards her stories of adventures and misadventures. This is my small attempt to share her story. Both Jill and I were traveling after we met, so this interview was done over email. Hope you enjoyed reading it and gain inspiration to climb mountains of your mind.  

Can you tell us a little about your adventure background?

Alpine ski racing took me out of the classroom, onto ski hills and highways throughout the winter, cross training year round and eventually to British Columbia where I fell in love with mountains and travel. Fast forward, I fused my love for physical activity and travel with my career once I graduated from university in Canada.

Since then, I have travelled more than 60 countries and worked in Singapore, Russia, Switzerland and Germany. It was while working as a Health, Physical Education and Sport Science teacher in Bavaria that my destiny led to a traumatic brain injury (TBI) which sent me on a miraculous adventure through more than 7 hospitals in 3 countries.

Jill running in the Everest region. Mount Everest (left) and Ama Dablam (right)

How do you balance work and your adventures?

Self-work and patience are essential in working towards accepting the unimaginable trail my life took. Following more than 2 years in hospitals, when ultimately being discharged in Colorado, I felt lost. Vision aside, the only signs I saw pointed towards travel with hope of finding light and self acceptance among the mountains of my mind.

My adventures are part of me working on myself. As my story develops, so too do my feelings of peace and acceptance of the storyline. Mountains have a way of grounding me yet this story is far from being laid to rest.

The ultimate therapy combination, balancing mountain running and reflective writing, make for days full of new hope and gratitude that were missing from my story for too long.

At Thorang La (5416m), the highest point on Annapurna Circuit

How has being in the outdoors changed you?

Mother Nature calms. She naturally fosters perspective, a natural healer. Intimate time with her running in mountains around this wondrous world, Mother Nature has taught me that I can overcome and grow stronger from every storm.

What is the craziest thing that you have done?

Some might say jumping out of an airplane with no training was crazy. However, introspectively beating the odds and surviving all that has come in the wake of my TBI is surreal, a different kind of crazy. Crazy to believe that I was given 3-days to live and here I am running alone  in the world’s most illustrious massifs with 30% vision.

Tell us a little about your experience in the Himalayas?

I was introduced and fell in love with the Nepal Himalayas in 2017.  Though I had mixed trail running with a variety of physical activities prior to my accident, mountain running was new to me. Using mountains as a recovery playground I started to pick up the pace as I got stronger and adapted to limited vision. When I arrived in Nepal, I fastpacked the Annapurna Circuit and then took a huge step and attempted my first ever mountain race, the Annapurna 100 (50km). Ten months earlier I was still in hospital, every stride was full of gratitude. Inspired and encouraged, I extended my stay in Nepal to participate in the Manaslu Mountain Trail Race.

Jill at Annapurna 50km. Photo by Kora Explore

Interacting with locals and runners from all walks of life on 190 km of trail over nine days with 11 000 m of vertical, sipping hot lemon beside tea house fires and slurping rara noodles,  Manaslu was a majestic chapter. It was a setting, along with the simple life of Nepal and the beauty of its people and culture, that I wanted my story to continue in.

Following the Manaslu race I had outlined another 8 months of world travel throughout other massifs however when that was complete, I followed my heart back to the Himalayas. I have recently completed a short fastpack in Langtang, Khumbu’s 3 Passes, including Everest Base Camp and Kala Pattar, as well as another variation of Annapurna with Tilicho, Mardi Himal and Poon Hill to finish.

What’s your next adventure?

Everyday is an opportunity for adventure. Currently dodging visa restrictions in Nepal and the Schengen is quite an unfortunate adventure. Sadly, 150 days does not allow for all I would prefer in Nepal. I am writing from Switzerland en route to Colorado where I will embrace trails in the Rocky Mountains which, for more than 7 months, I could see from a hospital room.  Following that, blueprints include a return for summer in the Swiss and French alps, possibly Croatia, Bhutan and then back for higher climbs in Nepal to end the year.

To read more about Jill’s story and follow her trails check out her website Mountains of my Mind, Instagram, Twitter and Facebook

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