It had been five grueling days of training missions at the Kennedy Space Center in Orlando, and Omar Samra was exhausted. The 35-year-old mountaineer and adventure-seeker had mastered piloting an Air Combat USA aircraft and felt the strength of blast-off in a G-Force simulator at the Kennedy Space Center Visitor Complex. He had been challenged in a series of tests on physics and space knowledge, and come first in his group in the military assault course to test stamina and strength.
Now, he is going to space after he beat 112 contestants in a Space Academy competition sponsored by AXE with Buzz Aldrin.
As he headed down to the bunkers to finally get some rest and shower, the enormity of his accomplishment had yet to hit him.
“In some ways it did not sink in until days later,” he told bazaar. “The shower and nap felt similar to those I take after long mountaineering expeditions; like a luxury of sorts. It’s a great feeling to wash and rest after you’ve worked arduously at something. You take nothing for granted.”
That is typical Omar Samra. While his accomplishments have earned him the titles of First Egyptian and Youngest Arab to climb Mount Everest, the First Egyptian to climb the highest mountain on every continent, and the only one to do so carbon-free, he takes nothing for granted.
Samra has had to fight his way to the top almost every time. He learned at the tender age of 11 that you can take your fate into your own hands. At the time, he was suffering from severe asthma. When his parents took him to the doctor he was given a choice, control it with medication, or overcome it with rigorous exercise. The very next day the young pre-teen began a running schedule that cleared his lungs within two months.
Four years later, he climbed his first mountain. As he gazed out at the peaks of the Swiss Alps covered in a blanket of clouds he began to understand what it meant to challenge his own mental and physical boundaries.
“I even found a notebook on the summit with signatures of those who had made it. I wrote my name in it as the first Egyptian and that feeling of pride for representing my country stayed with me ever since,” he said. “It was then that I decided I wanted to climb the highest mountain on earth.”
Everest climbs cost between $60K to $150k for gear, guides, the climb itself and insurance extras. To reach the summit, climbers must trek up ten days to get to base camp, and then spend six weeks on practice climbs to acclimate to the weather. Only then can they brave the 10-day climb that kills one in ten climbers every year.
For 12 years he climbed mountain after mountain, each time getting to a higher peak. He took a year off from working in the banking sector to travel across Asia and South America and climb peaks from China to Costa Rica. Once the year was over he thought it was time to return to what everyone else referred to as the ‘real world’. But, just a month and a half into a master’s degree at the London School of Business, he packed his camping gear once more. On May 17th 2007 the once asthmatic kid reached the top of the world.
Samra left all the preconceived notions on life and how to live it at that peak, and returned home with an aim to inspire young people all over the world. He became a public speaker, started an adventure company called Wild Guanabana and arranged climbs for charity. The Right to Climb, which aims to raise awareness about institutionally ignored mentally disability in Egypt, took a group of Egyptians up Kilimanjaro in 2010 (Africa’s highest peak), and was where Samra met his wife Marwa.
The next two years saw some of Samra’s greatest feats. He trekked through conflict zones as war broke out, and fought starvation on the seven continents to complete the Seven Summits Challenge. He raised over 1.5 million EGP for his Right to Climb initiative, and was the only Egyptian to participate in National Geographic’s Energy Challenge. Along with his wife, he also helped set up Marwa Fayed’s Toy Run which aims to bring toys to orphans and less advantaged children. This initiative recently won the first MBC Doing Good competition for a humanitarian project.
In February of 2013 a lingering dream of a child took a very real turn with the announcement of the AXE space challenge. Samra immediately applied and began to garner support so he could go higher than he had ever before. He applied with gusto, with the hope of being able to tell his then unborn daughter that her father had made it to space.
In the midst of all his accomplishments, tragedy struck home for Samra in June of 2013. His wife passed shortly after giving birth to their baby daughter Teela. Marwa had been by his side for some of his greatest achievement, and shared her husband’s dream of going into space. So while social media was excited over Samra’s achievement and upcoming space flight, he sent a tear-jerking message to his late wife’s Facebook page.
“Marwa is the love of my life and my biggest hero,” he told bazaar. “Her passing is the most difficult thing I’ve had to endure and in many ways I will never truly overcome it. I am however determined to make her and our daughter proud by continuing to push the envelope and hopefully inspire those who’ve gone through similar tragedies to continue to dream and move forward despite all odds.”
Samra may look to the stars to see future adventures and past pains. Yet, he continues to move forward. He has expanded the Marwa Fayed’s Toy Run all over the Middle East, continues to inspire young Arabs to ignite change and looks forward to the future with his daughter.
“The enigma of space and the possibilities it holds is what truly excite me about [space travel]. On a personal level, I can’t wait for my baby daughter to grow up so I can tell her all about it.”
With all his out-of-this-world accomplishments, his story is sure to be told to generations of children to come.
To donate your used toys to Marwa Fayed’s Toy Run, bring them by the bazaar office in the Shuwaikh Free Trade Zone. Follow the initiative on Instagram and Facebook: marwafayedstoyrun. To follow Omar Samra in his adventure to space follow him on Instagram, Twitter or Facebook .