Julie Beall-McKelvey never considered herself an extreme sports person. She did some strength training, but hiking and mountain climbing? It wasn't something Beall-McKelvey did a lot of.
But then in 2016, her father told her he had one more climb left in him and wanted his daughter to accompany him to Japan and climb Mount Fuji, Japan's highest point.
So Beall-McKelvey did just that, climbed Mount Fuji, and that's when something inside her clicked. She stood at the top and was above the clouds and saw views that most people can only dream of and imagine.
“Something changed for me inside and I fell in love with it,” Beall-McKelvey said.
Now, eight years later, Beall-McKelvey is part of an extremely small list of seasoned hikers. Beall-McKelvey is a resident of Harrisburg, but owns and operates Miracle-Ear, which has 34 locations throughout the Commonwealth, including the Williamsport and Wellsboro areas.
Last year, Beall-McKelvey climbed Mount Kosciuszko in Australia, becoming one of fewer than 100 women to ever reach the highest peak on each continent. Known as the Seven Summits, this feat is far from an easy task and Beall-McKelvey knows it. While training before Mount Denali in Alaska, she broke her foot and had to turn around to try again later. On her first summit spin on Mount Everest, she contracted a lung infection and had to be evacuated and hospitalized to recover.
But these were only setbacks, and Beall-McKelvey went on to complete all Seven Summits.
She climbed Mount Kilimanjaro in Africa in 2018, Mount Elbrus in Russia in 2019 and Mount Aconcagua in 2020 in South America just before the outbreak of the COVID-19 pandemic. Then she continued, went to the frozen desert of Antarctica and climbed Mount Vinson.
It was followed by Mount Denali in Alaska, followed by Mount Everest in the Himalayas on May 23, 2023, and ended with Mount Kosciuszko in South Australia.
Seven continents and seven summits, but one incredible milestone.
“It's kind of all the emotions.” I'm so happy, proud, but I think I'm mostly relieved that I did it, because I've been doing it almost non-stop for five years now.” Beall-McKelvey said. “It's been quite a journey.” It means a lot. I'm one of less than 100 women in the world who have ever done it, so I'm still trying to wrap my head around it and come down to Earth.'
Coming down to Earth figuratively can be easier than actually descending from the top of any mountain.
Of the seven peaks, Everest is the highest with an altitude of 8,848 meters above sea level. The second is Aconcagua with a height of 6,961 meters and the third is Denali with a height of 6,194 meters. Her last excursion – the ascent of Kosciuszko – was the shortest of the seven mountains with a height of only 2228 meters.
“I started doing the easier ones first and last year I progressed to Everest. I really didn't know if I could do Everest, but I kept doing the next mountain and training and doing nutrition.” Beall-McKelvey said. “I kept getting better at it and after Denali I was strong enough to climb Everest.”
All seven summits present their own challenges. You have a different terrain, weather and atmosphere. For example, in Vinson, Antarctica, you face temperatures that are well below freezing and brutal. At the top of Kosciuszko, you can face winds of over 40 miles per hour.
But the hardest for Beall-McKelvey were Denali and Everest.
“You're carrying so much weight in Denali and it's overwhelming, and Everest is hard because it's super dangerous and it's a two-month expedition,” Beall-McKelvey said.
While both were among the most difficult, Everest was the most difficult for Beall-McKelvey due to the fact that she had to battle a lung infection on her first spin at the summit.
“I wasn't sure if I could get back there, but I recovered and came out on top on the last day of the season,” Beall-McKelvey “So it was so incredibly difficult, I have to say, Everest just because of what I went through there. The odds were so stacked against me pulling it off.
“Being away from home and living in a tent for two months is really a lot. It wears you and adds to the nausea and is super revealing.” Beall-McKelvey added. “It's also the deadliest season on Everest, 17 people have died there.” That was hard to see.”
When Beall-McKelvey finally reached the summit of Kosciuszko to complete the seven summits, there was immediate emotion. She immediately started crying next to her husband and the children who were with her.
“That made the whole thing magical because they had to put up with me being gone for five years and so many injuries. To have them walk up there, to have all four of us together at the top, it was super emotional and I'm very grateful for that.” Beall-McKelvey said.
As it was a holiday in Australia when she climbed Kosciuszko, there were many people queuing for the summit to see Beall-McKelvey with the giant red balloon No. 7 and started cheering for her.
“We hung in there for a while, even though there were 50 mph winds up there,” Beall-McKelvey said.
Every summit that Beall-McKelvey has done has been with the help of Summit for Sound, which Beall-McKelvey founded. The organization helps provide hearing aids to young children and adults who might not otherwise be able to afford them. Through her seven treks, Beall-McKelvey has raised more than $250,000 through Summit for Sound.
While climbing Kilimanjaro, Beall-McKelvey decided to give free hearing aids to adults and children who couldn't afford them, and that's how Summit for Sound was born.
“All this support has paid off. With each climb, I would do another Summit for Sound campaign,” Beall-McKelvey said. “In total, I raised over $250,000 for the foundation. This will provide free hearing aids to thousands of families across the state of Pennsylvania and nationally as well. We help anyone and people can simply come into any Miracle Ear location, Pennsylvania or not, and ask if they can apply for a hearing aid. So there is no barrier to anyone getting hearing aid.”
Beall-McKelvey has been involved with the Miracle Ear Foundation since 1993 and vividly remembers the first time she fitted a young girl with a hearing aid. The girl was shy and had a terrible hearing loss, and the family unfortunately had a low income. Beall-McKelvey put the hearing aid in her ear and she immediately lit up.
“She heard and became confident at school and I witnessed that for the first time. I've never experienced anything like that having such an impact.” Beall-McKelvey said. “I've continued over the last 30 years to try to accommodate as many people as possible and make it a cultural point in our organization where it's mandatory. We do outreach in every community and give back to the community. Nobody gets paid, but it feels so good.”
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