“It was in my late 30’s that I discovered climbing. I found myself on Mt. Rainier in 2001 and jokingly say it has been all uphill ever since. One little mountain led to another bigger mountain until I found myself at age 42 standing on top of Mt. Everest,” said Tonya Clement, the 20th American woman to have successfully summited Mount Everest. She was also the first woman to successfully climb the five highest peaks of Africa
Born and raised in Tulsa, Oklahoma, Tonya Riggs Clement attended Colorado State University in the 1980s, where she was initiated into the Chi Zeta Chapter. While always athletic and active, Clement didn’t begin climbing until she was in her 30s.
“Living in Colorado, I stumbled across mountain climbing through the Colorado Mountain club, when my goal was really just to get education for safe travel through the Colorado Fourteeners (a “fourteener” is mountain peak with an elevation of at least 14,000 feet) but in the process there was one day when they put us on a rock and we had to climb up 20 feet off the ground and repel back. When I touched the rock, I realized: This is what I was born to do – I need to spend the rest of my life doing this.”
While she is the 20th U.S. woman to have climbed Mt. Everest, she is only the ninth American woman to have reached the top of Everest by the treacherous North Ridge.
When asked what summiting Everest was like, Tonya said, “Standing on top of Mount Everest….I don’t think I realized what I was doing at the moment. You’re so caught up, you’re so exhausted and it’s just surreal. You’re there, but you’re not really there. The magnitude of the experience didn’t really hit me until a couple of days later when I was down safe and looked back up at it [the summit] and thought ‘wow, I was actually on top of the world.”
She has led major expeditions around the globe, including locations such as Nepal, Africa, and Peru. Tonya has been fortunate enough to combine her personal passion with her professional life as she is the Director of Sales for Stonewear Designs, a manufacturer of women’s rock climbing and yoga apparel. Prior to that, Tonya spent over a decade teaching leadership development, team building, and performance management to Fortune 500 companies.
Not only was climbing Everest personally fulfilling for this Sister, she also met a very significant person while on her trek.
“I met my husband on Everest and that’s where we fell in love. I didn’t go there seeking to meet someone… It’s just not what you’re thinking about when you go to climb a mountain. You go 45-60 days without a shower – you’re not looking your best, you’re exhausted… you’re in a state of constant fear. He was hired to film the climb I was on. I watched him, and I grew a respect for the person he was and the way he handled the mountain. So I respected him before I was attracted to him.”
Tonya and Brad were married after meeting and falling in love on the slopes of Mt. Everest. They continue to climb together around the world; and are the only husband and wife team from the United States actively pursuing the world’s “8000-meter peaks” – the 14 tallest mountains on earth.
“To prevent being discouraged climbing Mount Everest,” says Tonya, “I adopted a mantra: Eat the Elephant One Bite at a Time. The mountain was ominous and the summit was days away, and we only went a small distance each day. I had to take one step and one moment at a time. If I got too far ahead of the task at hand, I’d become exhausted and overwhelmed. My advice to my Sisters is that you can’t hit a target you cannot see. Dream big. There is a difference between being alive and living. Live big .”