Former GJ, Mesa tennis player Joey Coleman does whatever it takes to help orphanage in Mongolia
Joey Coleman stood at the highest point on the continent of Europe and pondered life.
Even at 25 years old, the Grand Junction native has plenty to ponder.
In recent few days he went from the toasty, humid island of Singapore, watching the Indian Ocean caress its sandy shores, to the frigid summit of Mount Elbrus at 18,510 feet.
Dressed in heavy winter gear on that Russian mountain, Coleman spent 25 minutes at the summit soaking in his journey to the top of Europe.
“Standing atop Mount Elbrus was like nothing I’ve ever experienced,” he said in an email interview. “Being able to look out and know that there’s no point higher than you on the entire continent is staggering.”
Coleman has been quite the international traveler since he departed Grand Junction.
For more than a year, he lived on the Southeast Asian island of Singapore, where he coached tennis. His travels include studying in Australia, a “remarkable” trip to Tasmania and living in New Zealand for a time.
His travels to the far reaches of the globe have been documented on the website http://www.52-weeks.net.
Along the trek and at the summit of Mount Elbrus, Coleman thought about the inspiration that brought him to this point: A quest to help a group of orphan children that he has yet to meet.
A while back, Coleman’s mission and focus shifted to the children at a Mongolian orphanage.
He used his Mount Elbrus climb to raise $10,000 to go toward building a community center for the orphanage where he was scheduled to soon arrive.
“My motivation to help kids and build a community center comes from a simple place,” he said in the email. “I think kids deserve the right to be kids.”
Coleman learned about the orphanage from a man he coached in Singapore. Hearing tales of young children abandoned and living in the streets and sewers of the capital city of Ulan Bator prompted Coleman to get involved.
“They house, feed and educate the kids, in hopes that when they leave they are prepared to successfully enter society,” he said. “The work they do is nothing short of miracles.”
Tennis courts to mountain summits
As a world traveler and adventure seeker, Coleman says he can’t wait to meet the children at the orphanage.
“I’ve never really lost that childlike awe for the world around me, and I hope to share it with the little ones in Mongolia,” he wrote.
The sport of tennis, which Coleman excelled in for Grand Junction High School and Colorado Mesa University, was what brought him to Singapore and other places around the world. Through an organization that places coaches in areas, Coleman said he jumped at the chance to move to Singapore.
“I had the opportunity to go there because of tennis, a sport I owe a great deal to,” he said.
Grand Junction attorney Joe Coleman, Joey’s dad, says tennis was what put his son on the path to adventure.
“I don’t think anyone realizes what kind of doors can be opened through the tennis community (in Grand Junction),” Joe Coleman said. “Everything he’s done is directly tied to tennis.”
As an “amateur” climber, Joey Coleman has notched a few Colorado fourteeners over the years, including Longs Peak and Mount Elbert, and he always was intrigued by the Seven Summits. These make up the highest point on each continent. He has now conquered one of them.
Coleman said the Mount Elbrus climb was tough and cold, with the wind chill as low as 20 degrees below zero. Quite a shock for someone who spent more than a year in the hot and humid climate of Southeast Asia.
He showed up ready for the climb, wearing four layers of clothing, including two thermal layers, a down jacket and a heavy-duty wind breaker. Along with his goggles, down gloves, wool socks and face mask, he had everything he needed to battle the harsh elements on the 18,000-foot trek. Everything but the right boots.
“I showed up with leather boots,” he wrote.
The guide told him frostbite would surely be in his future if he wore those kind of boots, so Coleman shelled out $50 to rent a pair of plastic mountaineering boots for the week.
“I like my toes where they are,” Coleman wrote, referring to what frostbite might have done to his appendages if he wore leather boots.
During the grueling 12 hours of climbing and descending, Coleman said he had lots of time to think, and to think about the orphanage.
“I remembered thinking I was privileged to be on the other side of the planet, pursuing my passion, and how much I want to give those kids a shot at doing the same,” he said.
Coleman was the only American in the climbing group with others from Germany, Japan, England, New Zealand and Macedonia.
“It’s one of my favorite aspects of climbing, its ability to bring people together from all different backgrounds and cultures,” Coleman said.
Mount Elbrus has a reputation for being a tough climb, with the final three hours a very steep challenge. He said one member of their climbing team had to turn back because of altitude sickness.
Even for a Colorado guy, the altitude worried Coleman. He’s been at sea level for more than a year, and he said it was demanding.
“I had a splitting headache but managed to push through and reach the summit,” he said.
Upon arriving at the small village after the climb, there was a celebration, and in typical Russian party fashion, the vodka was flowing, Coleman said.
From the highest point in Europe to a figurative low point in Asia, Coleman’s quest to help build a community center at the Mongolian orphanage is a constant motivator.
As one of eight children who grew up in a loving family, Coleman said he thinks about his past and his good fortune when he focuses on the future and those less fortunate.
“I don’t think only those as lucky as me should have a bright childhood,” he said. “The whole concept of my fundraiser was that all kids, underprivileged or not, deserve the right to be kids.”
When it comes to coaching, he says children bring him the most enjoyment.
“It was hands down my favorite aspect of my work in Singapore,” he said about coaching children. “There’s a level of fun and chaos that I love when dealing with kids.
“Partly from growing up in a family of eight kids, I have always enjoyed working with children.”
Working with, coaching and helping children are at the center of Coleman’s passion, along with his love of the outdoors. Those inspirations were nurtured while he was a child himself.
“(My parents) managed to instill a great sense of adventure into anything we did,” he said. “My love of the outdoors undoubtably grew from my hikes on the (Colorado National) Monument.”
Margaret and Joe — Mom and Dad — were always encouraging their kids to expand their horizons.
“My philosophy is if it’s not insanely crazy, the risk is worth trying something unknown,” Joe Coleman said.
They also encouraged their children to help others.
“There’s no question that (Joey) has seen the need to look out for other people, and you help wherever you have the opportunity,” Joe Coleman said.
There’s a sense of adventure that burns molten hot within Joey Coleman.
“I just never really knew when to stop exploring. I still don’t,” he said. “My outdoor adventures have always helped me find myself and what’s important to me.”
For the next two months, Coleman’s energy will be poured into the orphanage.
“Only now have I realized how important it is to have the ability to relate to children, and at the same time, enjoy it,” he said. “I’m still a big kid, and it helps me relate with the little ones.”
Someday, Coleman says he will have little ones of his own, but for now his glass is much more than half full.
Whether he’s coaching tennis, traveling, rock climbing, camping with wombats and wallabies in Tasmania, drinking vodka with Russians and climbing buddies, or standing at the top of Europe, Joey Coleman’s adventure cup is close to the brim.
“I was born to travel the world,” he said. “I’d like to see myself, not only helping children around the world pursue a happy childhood, but also inspiring others to chase their own dreams.”
Sounds like a good plan.