In 2005 Jo and Rob Gambi became the first married couple to scale the ‘Seven Summits’ (the highest peaks on all seven continents). What makes their story even more remarkable is that Rob was in remission from his second bout of cancer. Sharon Barnard reports
“If someone had told us we would achieve what we did and break records, we would have laughed a lot and then said they were crazy!” says Jo Gambi, reflecting on the two-year challenge that would push the couple to their limits.
“What actually happened was that we left work unsure of both how long we were taking off and of how Rob’s health would be after his second episode of cancer. Our plan was simply to build up to attempting some of the seven summits. It was never quantified in our minds as a two-year challenge, but that’s just what ended up happening.”
Jo, a physiotherapist and an experienced rock climber, and Rob, an Australian who had a fear of heights when he first met his wife, were about to have the biggest adventure of their lives and face the greatest challenge to their faith.
“On our first expedition to Nepal, just one week into the trip, Rob had become critically ill and his life was in serious danger,” Jo explains.
“We were stranded high in the Himalayas with no way to be rescued because the helicopter couldn’t reach us in the bad weather. It was unbelievably hard seeing Rob in so much pain and critically ill, yet feeling helpless. There was only one thing we could do – pray.
“Before we left my friend prayed for us and gave us the verse from Psalm 121 about the Lord watching over our coming and going, which had been reassuring. But what transpired was a huge test to my faith. I found myself crying and asking God why he was allowing this to happen.
“I remember feeling angry that God had seemingly taken his eye off the ball,” admits Jo.
Rob ended up needing major abdominal surgery, but he lived to tell the tale.
“God had been faithful, pulling off nothing short of a miracle to protect Rob’s life – but it was a huge learning time for us both,” she says.
“The best way I can summarise some of what I learnt are these verses [from Job]: ‘Naked I came from my mother’s womb, and naked shall I return …; the Lord gave and the Lord has taken away; blessed be the name of the Lord’.
“I always knew this in my head, but it took being pushed to the very edge for it to really sink into my heart that whatever happens God is still God, and still to be praised.
“We don’t always choose what happens to us, but we can choose how we respond, and maintaining an attitude of gratitude, even if it’s just for the smallest things, is what keeps me on an even keel and open to God.
“We never take even one day for granted. Life is such a precious gift and sometimes it’s only the threat of having it taken away which really makes you appreciate what you have.”
Rob continues with his regular check-ups and is in good health. He is currently working for UBS Global Asset Management while Jo continues with speaking tours following the publication of her book Holding On. She’s also doing a sports and exercise medicine course – and there’s another book in the pipeline.
With 15 or so expeditions over the last few years including skiing to the North and South Poles together, people understandably want to know whether they’re planning any more adventures.
“While we have plenty of ideas, life is all about choices and the current choice we have made is to be a little settled in London and try to start a family,” says Jo.
“This hasn’t been straightforward because of the effect chemotherapy had on Rob, but we are in the middle of IVF treatment and very much hoping and praying that God will bless us with the ability to have children, which I dare say will be life’s biggest adventure to date!”
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