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Youngest Everest climber hopes to inspire kids

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[May 24, 2010]  BEIJING (AP) -- An eighth-grader from California who became the youngest climber to reach the top of Mount Everest said Monday he hopes his achievement will encourage young people worldwide to dream big.

"I'm doing this to inspire other kids, hopefully across the world, to get outdoors and to set goals in life. I'm doing this to set an example for them," said 13-year-old Jordan Romero in an interview by satellite phone from the 21,320-foot (6,500-meter) Advanced Base Camp where his team had returned after reaching the top on Saturday.

"The record is one thing, but standing on top of the world is just the best feeling you could ever imagine," he said.

InsuranceOn Saturday, Jordan succeeded in scaling the 29,035-foot (8,850-meter) peak, the world's highest, accompanied by a team that included his father, his stepmother and three Sherpa guides.

Before him, the youngest climber to scale Everest had been Temba Tsheri of Nepal, who reached the peak at age 16.

The climb had its tough moments, the teen said, especially after he developed stomach cramps on the final ascent.

"It was the toughest part of the climb because I was thinking, 'Man, I don't know if I'll make it 'cause this is the worst pain I had ever felt in my stomach. But when we approached the summit, it all just faded away. I just felt happiness," he said.

When the group finally reached the top, Jordan recalled touching the colorful prayer flags draped at the peak before standing with his arms outstretched, yelling in exultation.

"I was so happy that all of us as a team, both my parents and all our Sherpas, had made it to the summit," he said. "I was happy about that ... that I had accomplished something so unbelievable. It was a feeling that will definitely be with me for the rest of my life."

His next step was to call his mother, Leigh Anne Drake, who lives in California, with the news.

"The first thing I said was, 'Mom, it's your son calling from the top of the world.' Right away, I heard on the other line just craziness going on," he said.

Jordan's success means he remains just one climb away from his overall quest of reaching the highest peaks on all seven continents. The final peak is the 16,076-foot (4,900-meter) Vinson Massif in Antarctica, which he hopes to tackle at the end of the year.

The curly haired teenager, from the San Bernardino Mountains ski town of Big Bear, California, said his parents have been supportive of his dream ever since he was inspired at age 9 by a mural in a school hallway that showed the highest mountains on the seven continents.

"That mural just fascinated me so much. My dad picked me up from school and I said, 'Dad, I want to climb the seven summits,' and that was it," Jordan said.

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His father, Paul Romero, a helicopter paramedic who is trained in high-altitude rescue, and his stepmother, Karen Lundgren, have trained him for top-level mountaineering. They reached the summit of Mount Kilimanjaro in Africa, the first of the seven peaks, when Jordan was 10 years old.

Romero and Lundgren are both adventure racers who compete in weeklong endurance races that combine biking, climbing, mountaineering and paddling through wilderness areas.

"They are the most supportive parents ever. I do feel lucky for that," Jordan said. "I don't know if other parents would encourage their kids to go big. But that's what I'm doing this for -- to encourage kids who don't have that, to go big and set goals in life."

Romero said his goal has always been to help his son attain his dream, even as their quest raised questions about how young is too young to scale Everest, a mountain where harsh conditions have claimed the lives of dozens of climbers.

"It's important to remember, this is all Jordan's idea and Jordan brought us here. It's definitely not about a dad dragging his kid to do these quests and do these mountains. That's a hard thing for people to get their heads around," he said. "People that know us ... understand it very well. They can see into his eyes and understand how driven he is."

[Associated Press; By TINI TRAN]

Copyright 2010 The Associated Press. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.


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