Sisters use Kilimanjaro climb to raise money, spirits
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For sisters, cialis Kilimanjaro a chance to help and heal

Sisters use Kilimanjaro climb to raise money, nurse spirits
By: Alissa Gulin Daily Record Business Writer December 17, there 2014

It was their third day on the mountain. Temperatures had plummeted to 20 degrees below zero. The rain had finally stopped, but a harsh wind had risen up, and it was unforgiving.

Sisters Natalia Luis and Cidalia Luis-Akbar were cocooned in layers upon layers of heavy, water-resistant clothing, but the chill cut right through. It got into their bones and wouldn’t leave.

They had reached the Lava Tower, at about 15,000 feet, but their grueling, six-day climb to Mt. Kilimanjaro’s summit was only halfway over. Natalia looked her sister in the eye and told her she couldn’t make it.

A grueling journey

Rewind about a year and a half.

Cidalia and Natalia, co-owners of family business M. Luis Construction, were hiking in Arizona’s Santa Catalina Mountains. It was their first major hike. As they sat on a boulder, reflecting on the past 15 years, they entered what they called a “meditative state.”

And they decided to do something big.

Mount Kilimanjaro is the tallest free-standing mountain on Earth, but Cidalia, 46, and Natalia, 42, who were born in Portugal, said they were unintimidated by its enormity.

To them, the massive peak in Tanzania dwarfed in comparison to the astonishing parade of personal tragedies and professional setbacks they had already weathered by the time they decided, that day in Arizona, to just climb the thing.

The trek would be more than a bucket-list stunt; they opted to seek sponsorships to raise money for Children’s National Medical Center in Washington, D.C. So far, they’ve raised about $250,000.

But the eight-day journey — six days up, two days down — turned out to be far more difficult than either woman imagined.

They endured the dull, unending headaches of “altitude sickness,” the lack of sleep, the mental fatigue. And the pain — lots of pain, particularly for Cidalia, who had back surgery about six months earlier.

For Natalia, whose occasional migraines returned with a vengeance, “it was the cold that was the nemesis.”

Speaking from M. Luis Construction’s Silver Spring office about a week after returning to the U.S., Natalia recalls how on the third day of the climb, she simply couldn’t get warm. She couldn’t keep food down, and she was getting dehydrated.

She was ready to turn back.

But their guide, Johnny, intervened. He prepared Natalia a hot water bottle — no small task in sub-zero temperatures — which she said drove away the chill. Finally, she fell asleep.

Two days later, just before Thanksgiving, both sisters reached the summit, at 19,341 feet.

‘Resilience and grit’

The top two executives at M. Luis Construction, a regional asphalt manufacturing and construction services company, don’t run marathons. They aren’t adventure-seekers. Before scaling “Mt. Kili,” as they call it, they’d barely even hiked.

Overcoming obstacles, however — that they were familiar with.

“Resilience is built into our very fiber,” Cidalia said.

“And grit,” Natalia adds. “Cidalia and I have literally felt like we’ve been climbing mountains for years.”

It started more than a decade ago, when Cidalia lost her first child, Joseph, in utero. Six more children would follow; all of them died in her womb.

Then, she battled and survived cancer. And finally, in 2009, Cidalia gave birth to a daughter, Sophia, now a healthy five-year-old.

But the family couldn’t catch a break.

It was December 2010, in the depths of the Great Recession and two years after the sisters took over M. Luis Construction, which their parents founded in 1985. They had just closed on an asphalt manufacturing plant in Rockville, but money was getting dangerously tight.

Plus, the sisters said, others in the industry weren’t happy about the acquisition. The plant was in an ideal location, and other companies wanted it.

“If you look at all the plants in Maryland, they’re either owned by the big multi-national corporations or by multi-generational family companies,” Natalia said.

“So the barriers to entry in the [asphalt manufacturing business] are extraordinary, especially for two Hispanic women,” Cidalia continued. “From an industry culture perspective, we weren’t supposed to get the plant, and a lot of people had opinions about it.”

Still, the sisters press on. Then came the fire.

Feb. 19, 2011, the company’s massive central operations hub in Laurel went up in smoke when a neighboring mulch factory catches fire. Nearly 30 trucks, plus eight cargo containers packed to the brim with inventory, all melt.

It was just a few weeks before the start of construction season.

“I can’t even put into words how devastating that was,” Natalia said.

Just as M. Luis Construction started to bounce back from the fire, Mother Nature dampened their spirit — literally.

In a typical construction season, there are about 38 so-called “rain impacts” — the number of day or nightshifts that get rained out. That year, there were 94.

“We’re either starting our shift late or ending early, or we’re not working at all,” Natalia said. “And overhead costs have to be paid. So it was very, very tough, especially during the banking crisis.”

‘Hopes and dreams’

After so much trauma, Cidalia and Natalia said climbing Mt. Kilimanjaro allowed them to heal. When the climb got tough, the sisters would read notes from patients and staff at Children’s National Medical Center.

Every dollar raised for their climb will go to the hospital’s Fetal Medicine Institute, specifically for development of technologies that will enable physicians to diagnose various conditions in utero, saving precious time after the baby is born that could be used to perform surgery or start medication.

The diagnostic tools that are developed will then be shared with providers nationwide and across the globe, including in Tanzania.

“I thought of the children we left behind, all the cures that will come from this money,” Cidalia said. “Reading those notes about their hopes and dreams really kept us and our whole crew [of 21 people] going. I left all my sorrows on that mountain.”

Inside the M. Luis office, even guests are treated like family, but it’s clear who shares a bloodline. Neither sister goes five minutes without laughing. They hug everyone, and they love sweets. They both have a penchant for the word “extraordinary,” though they pronounce it differently.

Still, their personalities are distinct. Natalia is chattier; Cidalia speaks more slowly. Natalia says she’s more in touch with her inner self; Cidalia says the heightened self-awareness she felt on the mountain was uncommon for her.

Both said having a partner with different viewpoints makes them better leaders.

“We’re willing to check our egos at the door, and take turns when necessary,” Natalia said. “…We come up with really great decisions because our perspectives are put on the table, and typically they’re very different. We’re able to…”

She searches for the right word.

“… Complement each other,” her sister finishes.

Cidalia said they hope to inspire others to “find creative ways to be philanthropic,” even in difficult financial times.

“We can’t sit around and wait for everyone else to fix our issues,” Cidalia said. “We have to do it ourselves. We have to take responsibility. This was our way of doing that.”

ARCHIVES

2017 – M. Luis COO, Natalia Luis featured on Making Money with Charles Payne READ MORE

2017 – M Luis COO, Natalia Luis, Featured on Fox & Friends READ MORE

2016 – M. Luis Attends MCCC GovConNet Procurement Conference READ MORE

2016 – M. Luis Products Opens Second Asphalt Facility READ MORE

2015 – Cidalia Luis-Akbar and Natalia Luis Receive MCCC Small Business Leader of the Year Award READ MORE

2015 – M. Luis Participates in Special Halloween “Race for Every Child” READ MORE

2015 – M. Luis Receives Award at CRMSDC’s 34th Annual Leaders and Legends Awards READ MORE

2015 – Cidalia Luis-Akbar and 11 other Business Leaders Appointed by Leggett to Run MoCo Economic Development READ MORE

2015 – Natalia Luis Recognized by BGE as a Graduate of Focus 25 Class READ MORE

2015 – Cidalia Luis-Akbar and Natalia Luis to Receive Montgomery County Chamber of Commerce Small Business Leader of the Year Award READ MORE

2015 – US Builder’s Review Features M. Luis Construction and Products READ MORE

2015 – FBI Washington Field Office Announces Director’s Community Leadership Award Presented to Cidalia Luis-Akbar READ MORE

2015 – Start a Career at M. Luis! READ MORE

2014 – Sisters use Kilimanjaro climb to raise money, spirits READ MORE

2014 – Huffington Post Feature – “Climbing Kilimanjaro for a Cause” READ MORE

2014 – 2014 Prémio Máxima Mulher de Negócios READ MORE

2014 – ” M Luis Participant in City of Baltimore’s Minority Development Week” READ MORE

2014 – M. Luis Recognized the by Baltimore Business Journal READ MORE

2014 – M. Luis Construction is named one of Maryland’s Top 100 MBEs READ MORE

2014 – M. Luis Supports “Millions of Healthy Babies” – The Mt. Kilimanjaro Climb READ MORE

2014 – M. Luis Products, LLC Receives 2014 Best of Rockville Award READ MORE

2014 – M. Luis President and Vice President take part in the Global Entrepreneur Delegation to Lisbon READ MORE

2014 – M. Luis President Nominated for award by COTEC READ MORE

2014 – Children’s National Medical Center Fetal Medicine Institute Ribbon Cutting Ceremony READ MORE

2014 – New Children’s National Fetal Medicine Institute Offers Advanced Diagnostics and Patient Care READ MORE

2014 – Bill Clinton backs Anthony Brown at Potomac fundraiser: ‘I know what is in his heart’ READ MORE

2014 – President Barack Obama Visits M. Luis READ MORE

2014 – M. Luis Leadership Invited to the White House to Celebrate Successes READ MORE

2014 – One Mountain, Two Dedicated Sisters, Millions of Healthy Babies READ MORE

2014 – Cidalia Luis-Akbar named one of Maryland’s Top 100 Women READ MORE

2014 – Eagle Bank 2013 Annual Report: There when it counts. READ MORE

2014 – LT. GOVERNOR BROWN HOLDS MBE ROUNDTABLE DISCUSSION – Women and Minority Business Owners Share Ideas to Advance the MBE and SBR Programs READ MORE

2013 – WEBNC President’s Report – December 2013 READ MORE

2013 – 17th Annual PALCUS Leadership Awards Gala READ MORE

2013 – Noticias Magazine – “Como a família Luís conquistou Obama” READ MORE

2013 – The Washington Post: State, federal and private lending efforts help small business weather a ‘perfect storm’ READ MORE

2013 – M. Luis Executives Win Ernst & Young Entrepreneur of the Year® 2013 Maryland Award for Construction and Manufacturing READ MORE

2013 – Treasury Secretary Recognizes M. Luis’ Economic Contribution READ MORE

2013 – ABC Metro Washington – Building Washington Spring 2013 READ MORE

2012 – M. Luis Construction Among 16 Companies awarded GBC’s ‘Bridging the Gap” Award for Minority Owned Businesses READ MORE

2011 – Hard Hats & High Heels READ MORE

2011 – Woman in Business Maryland: Road-Building Sisters are Paving a Bright Future READ MORE

2011 – Gazette.net: Immigrant sisters take road less traveled READ MORE

2010 – Personal Drive, Wirtgen Products Help Contractor Grow In Maryland Market READ MORE