When people learn that Stacy Allison was the first North American woman to climb Mount Everest, they typically want to hear about the rigors of the climb or the stunning vistas at the top.
No one usually wants to hear about the dozens of bloodsucking leeches that latched themselves to her during the damp, grueling trek to base camp.
"Everyone thinks the mountain's the challenge, but you're facing challenges before you even get to the base," she says. "There's a long journey before you can start any climb, and there is so much preparation. You can't count on ordering pizza at 25,000 feet."
Preparation and endurance were just two elements of the motivational message Allison gave Thursday during the Chattanooga Women's Leadership Institute's annual banquet. The event, held at the Chattanooga Convention Center, drew more than 500 people, including many outdoor enthusiasts.
Previous speakers have included former FDIC head Sheila Bair and the late Wilma Mankiller, first woman principal chief of the Cherokee.
"We always try to have someone who can bring a message that can apply to a very diverse group of women," said Rickie Pierce, president of the institute.
Allison is more than just a mountaineer. Besides running a successful residential construction company in Portland, Ore., she's written motivational books, toured the globe for speaking events and is a mother of two.
She said her outdoor adventures have taught plenty of lessons she can apply to her personal life and business strategy, such as adaptation, reading the elements and perseverance.
When she first attempted to climb Everest in 1987, she was consumed with the pressure of becoming the first American woman to make it to the top, she said. But her dream was stalled when her group was forced off the mountain by one of the worst storms in decades.
The next year, she regrouped and tried the climb again. This time she wasn't so obsessed with being first to the top; she just wanted to make it.
"Once I realized that, it was so freeing. I was able to help my teammates and actually focus on the climb."
Patience and having the stamina to start over are tools Allison said she's needed in the business world as the recession crashed the residential housing market, which took a toll on her construction company.
"You have to be able to adapt and make the most of your situation," she said. "No matter what you get hit with."