Take the bare bones of the Cindy Abbott story, then take a look at the woman. The two don’t jibe the way one might expect. The 51-year-old Cal State Fullerton health-science lecturer and fitness buff decided on a whim to climb Mount Everest after watching a show on Discovery Channel. Not only did she complete the task last spring, but she also did so without the benefit of all her vision (she’d already lost her sight in one eye, but all went temporarily dark after summiting). Factor in the broken oxygen mask (sort of important at 29,000 feet), that she didn’t have all that much mountaineering experience to begin with, and the excruciating frostbite she experienced during the climb, and suddenly, she puts Indiana Jones to shame. Did we mention that prior to her odyssey, Abbott was diagnosed with Wegener’s Granulomatosis, a degenerative disease of the blood vessels that’s so rare her doctors have told her each patient is his or her own case study?
Hearing about such exploits before meeting Abbott, one expects a statuesque woman who’s 10 feet tall and sporting a bravado that would make John Wayne feel like the new kid in the class. Instead, what you get is an eminently humble, diminutive woman who speaks with the measured, matter-of-fact tones of a professional lecturer—and flashes an impish smile when recounting her harrowing tale.
Married to a retired Orange County Sheriff’s lieutenant for 19 years, she enjoys ballroom dancing, and her Irvine townhouse is a preserve for a small herd of rescued cats. When not lecturing at the university, Abbott is dedicated to raising awareness and money for the Vasculitis Foundation. She is also in the process of writing a book chronicling her battle with Wegener’s and the surly bonds of gravity on the world’s tallest peak. And just when you begin to forget the mind-boggling danger she endured on the world’s highest mountain, she’ll tell you the story of descending a sheer ice face without being able to see. She cracks a smile as she says, “You don’t need to see to rappel.”
1. Get Into the Canyons.
“Laguna Canyon has some good, steep sections. You can go as many hours as you want, and it’s close. It’s got great views of the ocean. You can be out there all by yourself—in Orange County.” Laguna Coast Wilderness Park, 18751 Laguna Canyon Rd., Laguna Beach.
2. Stay Fit.
A loyal member of 24 Hour Fitness in Irvine for 25 years, Abbott prefers to use a facility closer to her home, rather than at the CSUF campus. “At Cal State, [I’m] not dressed properly. And after teaching three classes, I don’t have the energy to work out.” 15315 Culver Dr., Irvine, (949) 262-0600; www.24hourfitness.com.
3. Get Your Italian On.
Abbott says Spasso’s Italian Bar & Grill is “the best Italian food around. I love the chicken and broccoli.” 25292 McIntyre St., Ste. A, Laguna Hills, (949) 768-1227; www.spassos.com.
4. Be a Smart Shopper.
Her grocery store of choice is the Ralphs at the Woodbury Towne Center. No, she doesn’t shop at Whole Foods or Trader Joe’s. “I can analyze everything myself. Anybody with a little education in nutrition can shop at a regular place just by paying attention. I have a whole two-week lecture on this.” 6300 Irvine Blvd., Irvine, (949) 559-1139; www.ralphs.com.
5. Gear Up.
This is coming from someone who summited Everest: Go to “REI in Santa Ana.” 1411 Village Way, Santa Ana, (714) 543-4142; www.rei.com.
6. Have a Picnic.
“For Music Under the Stars at Mission San Juan Capistrano, we’d rent a table, invite friends, dance and eat. I danced with a broken leg recently. I wasn’t supposed to.” 26801 Ortega Hwy., San Juan Capistrano, (949) 234-1300; www.missionsjc.com.
7. Take Care of Your Kitties.
“The Cat Clinic of Orange County has amazing doctors, and they only work with cats.” 1680 Tustin Ave., Costa Mesa, (949) 631-1454; www.catclinicofoc.com.
8. Don’t Take the Beach for Granted.
“My husband and I used to run at the San Clemente Pier back in our running days.” 611 Avenida Victoria, San Clemente.
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9. Or the Ocean.
Although there are lots of places to dive in California, when in OC, Abbott enjoys night diving at Little Corona. “There’s a lot of interesting stuff that comes out at night: rays, crustaceans—lobsters and crabs you don’t see in the daytime.” Poppy Avenue, across Ocean Boulevard, Corona del Mar.
10. Always Get a Rescue Pet.
“We’ve gotten so many of them from different places. Let’s see . . . the last one was from the Orange County Animal Rescue Coalition.” 2237 Park Ave., Tustin, (949) 451-3272; www.oc-arc.com.