When Siti Hanisah Sharuddin conquered Mount Everest on May 23, 2013, she was 23 years old – and the youngest Malaysian woman to do so. Cheers and accolades greeted Siti Hanisah upon her return. But the voices around her had not always been so positive.

When she harboured dreams of scaling the Seven Summits – the highest mountains of the world’s seven continents – friends told her to get her head out of the clouds.

Their scepticism was not without basis. The petite lass was not a seasoned mountaineer. In fact, her forte was on flat ground – the athlete was a race walker when she was a student in the Bukit Jalil Sports School. While she started intensive training under an expedition team, her mountaineering experience was limited to local peaks, conditions of which are far less brutal than the Seven Summits.

“The doubtful comments I got was demoralising, but I shut the negativity out and focused on my training and asked experts for advice instead,” recalled Siti Hanisah, one of five outstanding Malaysians celebrated by Fernleaf as part of its Goodness Feeds Greatness campaign.

The naysayers were proven wrong when Siti Hanisah proudly set foot on the peak of one of the Seven Summits – Mount Elbrus in Russia – in 2012.

Next stop: Mount Everest.

With her parents’ blessings, Siti Hanisah – who was raised in a Felda settlement in Negri Sembilan – began her treacherous expedition to scale Mount Everest.

Battling extreme conditions every step of the way, she was nearly defeated by acute mountain sickness during the last leg of the climb. While her teammates triumphantly took pictures at the peak, she was incessantly vomiting at Camp 4, the last stop before the summit.

She decided to try pushing for the summit again the next day. She requested to stay behind while her team returned to base camp. There were spare oxygen tanks she could use, but it was still a risky decision – Camp 4 was known as the “death zone”, as oxygen level is dangerously low.

As part of the protocol, the team leader called her father to ask for permission.

“When my father said yes, I felt all the strength returning to my body. I found out later that family members around him were urging him to say no, as they feared for my safety. He was worried sick too, but he decided to let me try again,” shared Siti Hanisah.

The rest, as they say, is history.

After her success at Mount Everest, Siti Hanisah took on four more of the Seven Summits. She conquered Mount Kilimanjaro in Africa and Mount Kosciuszko in Australia, but was unsuccessful at Mount Aconcagua in Argentina and Mount McKinley in North America.

Siti Hanisah is taking a hiatus since the birth of her first child a few months ago. Her focus is on being a mother now, but she vows to defy gravity again in a couple of years. After all, she still has a lofty goal to fulfill – becoming the first Malaysian to conquer all Seven Summits.

“I’m okay with failure if it is due to conditions I cannot control, such as the weather. But for things I can control, such as determination and fitness, I will not let them stand in my way,” she concluded.