Irishman Robbie Dowling climbed Mount Kilimanjaro in an achievement that is hardly noteworthy except for the fact the 57-year-old did it with a companion named Sheila on his back.
Sheila is a bathtub.
Yes, a bathtub, a 26kg bathtub.
“It was a very proud moment for me and for Ireland,” Dowling told The Journal, an online publication based in Dublin, where Dowling is from.
So why would Dowling carry a bathtub strapped to his back on a grueling, five-day, 90km hike to the top of the world’s highest freestanding mountain at 19,336 feet? Ultimately it’s about helping children along the Amazon River.
“Sheila came from a mental flash — I was 22 and I was asked what I wanted to do before I die,” Dowling told The Journal. “I just had an image of standing in a bath on the Amazon River, so that’s where she came from.”
The vision became a reality in 2007. With Sheila the bathtub in tow, Dowling sailed 375 miles down the Amazon River.
But soon after the end of the trip, the bathtub was stolen, and Dowling went searching for it.
“I … had a period of intense loss of many people that I loved, including my beloved son Mark,” Dowling explained to Red Bull.
“What kept me living was finding my bath, and honoring a promise to Jazmin — a young girl that I found deep in the Amazonian jungle. She was 12 years old and very sick.”
In The Journal, Dowling described seeing Jazmin on the floor of a mud hut unable to walk.
“From then the journey changed for me,” he said. “I just wanted to help her and other children.
“She died Christmas Day 2012. I made her a promise that her life and suffering would have meaning and that I would build a medical center in her name. This was and is my motivation, to keep that promise.”
Dowling began raising money for Amazon Children, a charity he started that aims to improve health and care facilities for disadvantaged children in the region. The bathtub helps bring attention to his cause.
According to the Irish Mirror, Dowling put up posters offering a $1,000 reward for the missing bathtub, and apparently it worked. The bathtub showed up in Colombia in March and they were reunited in time for the Kilimanjaro adventure, one Dowling nearly had to abort.
“This trip took me to the edge,” he told the Irish Mirror. “I was very close to death.
“My lungs were almost gone, my eyesight was fading, I clung to each step with Sheila. My two guides told me I would die if I continued on, so I returned to camp and finished the hike the following day.”
Obviously he survived the summit climb and it was all downhill from there, as porters carried Sheila down the mountain for him, as was the plan.
So, what’s next for Dowling and Sheila?
In October, he plans to cross the Bolivian Salt Flats, walking seven miles a day on his two-month journey. Behind him, he will be pulling Sheila, the bathtub that has become an icon for “following your heart no matter what people say.”