By Ashley South
“Lucy Westlake, of Naperville, IL, the youngest American woman ever to summit Mount Everest!” This headline ran for weeks this spring everywhere from the Chicago Tribune to the Wall Street Journal following her May 12th completion of the highest climb on earth. Climbing Mount Everest is the pinnacle athletic feat for any mountain climber, let alone a 17-year-old. So many questions, chief among them: How did she do it? The answer: Amy and Rodney Westlake, Lucy’s parents. We sat down with the family to ask how Lucy became such a driven and accomplished person at such a young age.
Amy and Rodney met during a spring break trip to Cuba they planned with friends in graduate school. For one reason or another, all their friends backed out and left the two of them alone to explore the island together. They shared meals, met locals, and discussed personal philosophies. From that time on, they were a couple.
Within a few years, Amy and Rodney married, had Lucy, graduated, and then had Jack. While pregnant, they practiced what Amy described as prenatal parenting — spending intentional time focused on the developing baby, by singing songs and reading to it. During this time after graduation, Rodney founded a wealth advisory firm that gave him the flexibility to work anywhere so he and Amy could focus on raising their children and traveling.
For the Westlake parents, their travels informed the family philosophy. Amy tells us, “There are life lessons to be learned outside of your every day when you travel. You eat different food; you have different experiences; and you interact with different types of people.”
When Lucy and Jack were toddlers, Amy and Rodney moved the family to Mexico to teach the children Spanish and learn more about Rodney’s heritage via his extended family. They rented a house within his family’s town of Queretaro, in Central Mexico. With colorful buildings, public gardens, and walkable plazas, the discoveries for the kids were endless. After a year, the family moved to Kentucky to be close to Amy’s family.
When Lucy was 8, Amy found a pen pal program for her kids to correspond with other kids in Africa. Through the program, Lucy met Faith, a girl her same age from Uganda. In her letters, Faith described how her mom would go to a dirty river to collect water for cooking and washing. They lived in a rural town with no running water. Lucy wanted to help and went to her parents to talk about what they could do.
In 2016, The Westlakes made their way to Naperville to support Lucy’s progress in triathlon competitions. The family looked for the best private team in the country and found MMTT Elite Tri Club, which was based out of Naperville, at the time. After homeschooling for primary school, they planned to send the kids to public high school. They found Naperville North and the girls’ cross country and track teams exceptional.
Amy and Rodney’s Parenting Philosophy
1 – Set goals:
When Lucy was five years old, the Westlakes began intentional goals-setting as a family. Every year in December, each member of the family spends time alone writing down three to five goals for the upcoming year. In January, they come together to share each goal and listen to the reasoning. Amy tells us, “Of course, when they were small, we discussed what was realistic. Now, by the end of the conversation, we have about five family goals and the steps needed to accomplish each goal.” Each person’s top individual goal becomes a family goal. Amy and Rodney empowered each child to set big goals for themselves and then structured around achieving each one
In 2011, Lucy said she wanted to climb a mountain. Rodney told us that this statement is how they ended up climbing all 50 U.S. High Points (tallest peaks in each state). Lucy was seven and kept adding new states after each summit. They did not have the money to fly to all the high peaks, so they loaded everything into their SUV and drove to each one of their adventures. It took them ten years averaging about five a year.
In 2016, the family was finally able to complete their goal of helping Faith, Lucy’s pen pal, and her family in Uganda. Through a family friend that knew of the goal, they were introduced to WaterStep, a non-profit organization that manufactures safe water systems. As a family, they traveled to install the system and meet Faith. Their efforts continue to provide safe water to 3,000 people a day.
2 – Say “YES!!” to opportunities:
The Westlakes keep themselves open to pivoting if they encounter a roadblock. “Although we set goals and we are very committed to the pathway to be successful in those goals, we know that we must always stay adaptable and flexible.”
After completing Mount Rainer in 2015, Lucy wanted to climb Denali, the highest peak in North America. Rodney contacted local Denali guide services who denied their request on the grounds of Lucy’s age (13). One guide told him that Lucy would have to prove that her body could handle the ascent. So, the family pivoted. Lucy set her sights on Kilimanjaro in Kenya (which shares a border with Uganda where her pen pal lives) to prepare for Denali. She summitted on Christmas Day in 2016. Her feat proved to be the first of Seven Summits (highest peaks on each continent). From there, she was allowed to climb and subsequently summited Denali.
Amy and Rodney encourage the kids to get out of their comfort zones and be curious about the world around them. “Something might happen, yes. But we always challenged them to build confidence and independence.”
3 – Invest in relationships: “We have taught our children that the most important aspect of life is people, your interactions with them, and your compassion and empathy towards all people. Your network of people is what will bring joy and long-term success in life.”
In June of 2021, after Lucy set the world record as the youngest female to complete the 50 U.S. High Points, the Daily Herald published an article about it. Someone in Evanston read the article and invited the family to a party at their home celebrating the oldest American man to summit Mount Everest.
It turns out that person was Rick Sweitzer, who owns PolarExplorers, a provider of climbing adventure guides. And, Rick’s son completed the Explorers Grand Slam (North Pole and South Pole, as well as the Seven Summits). Fewer than 100 people worldwide have completed the Explorers Grand Slam. By the end of that party, the family went from having absolutely no idea how Lucy could accomplish her goal of being the youngest person to complete the Explorers Grand Slam, to knowing 100% how to make it happen. “Rick is the person that gave us the name of the Sherpa to reach out to for climbing Everest. He said, ‘This is the Sherpa you want Lucy to climb Everest with.’ And he was right!” A sherpa is a professional guide who navigates and helps with gear during the climb
After 25 days of climbing, Lucy summited Mount Everest on Thursday, May 12, 2022, at 5:36 a.m. She broke the youngest record by one month of the record holder before her.
Lucy is also on track to complete the Explorers Gram Slam by the end of 2023. She has only Mount Vinson (in Antarctica), the North Pole, and the South Pole to complete.
This fall, Lucy will attend the University of Southern California, on a track and field scholarship. She plans to major in public policy because of her passion surrounding water rights.
Amy and Rodney with be moving to Nashville with their son Jack to focus all their energy on his football abilities. Considering the foundation Amy and Rodney have provided for both children and Lucy’s resulting success, Jack is one to watch for in the NFL in the future!
You may support Lucy’s Go Fund Me efforts and follow her on Instagram as she tries to break more records!
“At the end of every day, be sure you have given back more than you have taken.”
– unknown author