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Climbing Kilimanjaro: How Becoming an Anytime Fitness Franchisee Led to a Once-in-a-Lifetime Experience
After climbing the highest mountain in Africa with one of his Anytime Fitness members, franchisee Mark Stevens is prepared for any challenge that comes his way.

When franchisees are signing on the dotted line to open their own business, they typically aren’t thinking about how their career move will lead them to even bigger opportunities. But for Mark Stevens, becoming an Anytime Fitness franchisee kicked that door wide open.

It all started with one of Stevens’ Anytime Fitness members, Travis Hunsicker. Hunsicker got to know Stevens and his wife Kristie through their gyms—the Stevens family owns seven Anytime Fitness locations across Mississippi and Alabama. Years ago, Hunsicker set out on a mission to climb Mount Kilimanjaro, but it didn’t go as planned. He fell ill on the third day of ascent with altitude sickness, and was escorted back down the mountain after collapsing. So, after taking more time to train, Hunsicker decided that he wanted to go back and attempt to climb the mountain again. But this time, he wanted to do it with a friend.

Hunsicker went on a local radio show and told Stevens to tune in. Right away, Stevens knew what he was going to be asked to do.

“As soon as I heard Travis on the radio, I knew where things were heading. He wanted to go back and conquer the mountain that conquered him, and I was the only one in his sphere of friends who would be up for that kind of climb. He also knew that I was the only one with that level of flexibility in my career—at the time I had six locations, and I had built out the system to a point where I could be gone for three weeks and it would run without me,” said Stevens. “When he called me a few days later to ask me about the climb, I agreed and we started training. That process took about six months, but if I’m being honest, I trained more intently the last three months. After that, we went to Tanzania and had a wonderfully grueling time.”

Climbing Mount Kilimanjaro is no easy feat. In addition to the months of training and preparation that take place, the week or so climbing the actual mountain is an experience like no other. After Stevens and Hunsicker arrived at the base camp, they had a few days to get settled and rested up from the plane trip. They then embarked on a 5.5-day journey to the peak, followed by another full day’s journey back down the mountain. During that time, Stevens says that he thought about giving up more than once. But by persevering through the pain, he learned a few life lessons that he’s been able to apply to his life in the four years since that once-in-a-lifetime experience.

“You wake up in the middle of the night to start your [last ascent] journey, and you’re cold, tired, achy and you can’t see anything because it’s dark. It’s at that point—when you’re miserable and you hurt—that rationalization starts to kick in. You start thinking to yourself, ‘No one will think less of you if you don’t make it. It’s completely understandable to not succeed,’” said Stevens. “Once you start talking yourself out of it, it’s hard to keep going. That last day of ascent was one of the most miserable feelings that I’ve ever had in my whole life, and I experienced it voluntarily. But I snapped out of it and thought, ‘Hell no,’ and finished the climb. You can accomplish a lot of things in life with that level of determination.”  

Now that Stevens has climbed Mount Kilimanjaro, he’s grateful for the experience—both the good and the bad. Together with Hunsicker, he learned invaluable lessons that have helped him take both his life and business to the next level.

“When you’re climbing, there are a lot of false peaks. That’s something that’s also true in business—just when you think you get there, you realize that you have further to go. It’s that proverbial carrot that’s hanging in front of your nose—you’re seemingly always out of reach,” said Stevens. “The only thing that will get you to the real peak is perseverance. It’s tempting to stop and give up, whether you’re climbing a mountain or building your business. When you reach a false peak, you realize that there are an entirely new set of challenges waiting for you that you didn’t see coming. So, it’s up to you to have that determination to keep going. There’s nothing more satisfying than achieving a goal that you set for yourself, even if it’s a challenge to get there.”

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