Our Client Of The Month this month is an exceptional story.

Cavan Burke was one of The Altitude Centre’s first clients, and arrived at our centre with the goal to get fit enough to reach the summit of Mount Kilimanjaro (5,892m above sea level) by the end of January 2005.

A year and a half before visiting us for the first time, Cav weighed in at a super-morbidly obese 178kg (28 stone), and had been diagnosed with Type II diabetes and other health complications related to over-eating and under-exercising.

After his Doctor warned him his poor lifestyle choices would result in an early death, Cav realised he needed to change.

‘Enough was enough,’ he says. ‘I wanted to change.’ To help him on his journey, Cav used the six stages of behaviour change model (also known as the Transtheoretical model, created by James Prochaska in 1977):

– Pre-contemplation (you’re not aware of the need to change);
– Contemplation (you’re aware change needs to be made);
– Decision (you decide to make a change);
– Action (you start to change your behaviour patterns);
– Maintenance (your new behaviour starts to become your normal behaviour);
– Transformation (the new behaviour becomes your automatic pattern).’

After 18 months on a medically supervised exercise and nutrition programme, Cav had lost 76kg (12 stone).

‘Even when I reached the ‘action’ stage, I was aware that old habits die hard. After losing 76kg in 18 months, I was still working hard on the maintenance stage.’

With new determination after losing 43 per cent of his body weight, Cav came to The Altitude Centre with the aim to realise his dream of reaching the summit of Mount Kilimanjaro.

‘Climbing Kili was my dream,’ he says. ‘My blood pressure was still high and my weight had reached a plateau, so I came to The Altitude Centre after reading about it in an issue of Ultra Fit magazine.’

Cav embarked on 15, hour-long sessions of Intermittent Hypoxic Exposure (IHE) at The Altitude Centre to help him reach his goal.

Whilst no exercise was required during these sessions, the IHE still exposed Cav’s cardiovascular system to a tough workout.

IHE sessions consist of breathing hypoxic air through a mask for five minutes, then sea-level air for another five minutes, repeated six times in one hour.

This stimulates a wide range of adaptations: One that helped Cav in particular was the increase in metabolic rate, the rate at which your body burns energy (calories).

‘IHE helped me lose another 3kg (7lbs)’, recalls Cav. ‘My blood pressure fell by another 12 per cent and my resting heart rate dropped another 5bpm.’

Cav was able to realise his dream of conquering Kilimanjaro four weeks after his course of IHE: ‘It was the hardest thing I’ve ever done, and I would not have made it without IHT,’ he says.

‘Kilimanjaro is a hard mountain to conquer, mainly because it gets steep relatively quickly, and most treks take you to the summit in just four days, which isn’t really long enough to acclimatise properly.

‘On my particular trip I heard of two women who died that very month attempting it, and only 50 per cent of my group successfully made it to the top. Pre-acclimatisation is vital, and The Altitude Centre provides a life-saving service in this respect.’

After conquering Kilimanjaro, Cav remained motivated to carry on losing weight, but found it hard to stay to transition into the transformative (and final) stage of behaviour change.

This month, Cav returned to The Altitude Centre, and has been attending three times a week to get back on his path to full health and optimum fitness.

‘Normal people like me can achieve great things. If you think you can, you can. If a fat bloke like me can reach the highest point in Africa, then anything is possible.’

Cav continues to work with his weight, but he continues to make positive change. We look forward to working with him on his journey.

Cavan Burke
Cavan Burke