Ain't No Mountain High Enough

Sara Thorpe climbs against cancer

Published in 2005 Northern California Super Lawyers — August 2005

Most people turning 46 would consider it just another birthday, celebrated with dinner, drinks and cake. But for Sara Thorpe, managing partner of Gordon & Rees’ San Francisco office, it was much more significant than that. Her mother died from breast cancer at 46, and with that age creeping up on Thorpe, she decided it was time to make a difference.

Thorpe entered Climb Against the Odds, the Breast Cancer Fund’s yearly mountain-climbing challenge to raise awareness and funds for breast cancer prevention. She raised more than $8,000 and trekked 14,162 feet up California’s Mount Shasta, an imposing volcano close to the Oregon border. “It was just overall the hardest thing I’ve ever done,” says Thorpe. “We got up at 12:30 in the morning and started hiking up. It took us nine hours to get to the top.”

Thorpe has volunteered with cancer organizations before — fundraising and hiking — but nothing as big as Climb Against the Odds. When she received information in the mail about the Mount Shasta climb, she thought it sounded perfect. “I thought with my birthday approaching, to do something like that — give back and help people — might bring me good karma for not getting breast cancer,” says Thorpe. So began the training.

To prepare for the climb, a couple of times each week Thorpe went on outdoor hikes and climbed the Dipsea Steps, Mill Valley’s most famous outdoor stairway — 676 steps that ascend Mount Tamalpais. While that may sound gruesome, it was nothing compared to what Thorpe endured on Mt. Shasta. “The hike itself was like doing deep knee bends for nine hours.”

The Mount Shasta climb in July 2004 was the Breast Cancer Fund’s fifth major mountain-climbing expedition. The 24 breast cancer survivors and supporters followed a routine of 45 minutes of climbing, a water break, then back to climbing. Not everyone made it to the top, but that wasn’t the point. “The whole theme in this was to be a part of this whole experience, rather than only reaching for this goal,” says Thorpe.

The insurance coverage litigation attorney, wife and mother of two is no stranger to achieving her goals. “If you have problems to solve or goals to reach, it’s just hard work and focus,” says Thorpe. “One of my biggest challenges here is not only just practicing law, but managing our San Francisco office and trying to get 160 lawyers all going in the right direction and working with each other and keeping our eye on the goal.”

Are there more mountains in Thorpe’s future? “When I was done, I said there’s no way I’m climbing another mountain,” says Thorpe. But at the climb’s celebration dinner her 9-year-old daughter may have changed her mother’s mind. “She turned to me and said, ‘You know what, Mom? I want to climb that mountain with you someday.’”

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