Nungshi Malik and Tashi Malik are 24-year-old identical twins born in the state of Haryana in the northern part of India. They think big, dream big and have conquered big, literally and figuratively.
They are the youngest of 33 people to have completed the Adventurer's Grand Slam, the successful scaling of the highest peak on each of Earth's seven continents and reaching the North and South Poles. The first of the summits was Africa's Mount Kilimanjaro at 19,341 feet. The last was Mount Vinson, measuring 16,050 feet in Antarctica. In between was Mount Everest in southern Asia, elevation 29,029 feet to form the planet's tallest peak.
"You're not focused about reaching the summit, you're just focused on reaching one step," Nungshi said. "We kept telling this to each other, just focus on where you're going next, just keep doing that one step-one step and that will become momentum."
Nungshi Malik and Tashi Malik, 24-year-old identical twins from India, are learning marketing, sports management and fundraising at the NHL through the U.S. Department of State Global Sports Mentoring Program. (Photo Credit: Nungshi Malik and Tashi Malik)
To the twins, mountaineering is a metaphor for meeting life's challenges and achieving visions designed to change the world for the better. The quest continues with their participation in the U.S. Department of State Global Sports Mentoring Program, a collaboration between the U.S. State Department, the University of Tennessee and espnW offering young women across the world the chance to work with American sports properties and consumer brands.
For the third straight year the NHL is a host organization for the GSMP. The Maliks' goal is to learn marketing, sports management and fundraising to promote their NungshiTashi Foundation that empowers girls through mountaineering.
"We want to learn more of the entrepreneurial skills," Nungshi said. "We started our foundation and we're crystalizing some projects and ideas. But looking at India's context where people are not so supportive and where they do not see girls rise in business or corporations, it was important to understand what it is like in the [United States], where you have so many women entrepreneurs and successful women's businesses.
"By the end of the course we want to work on an action plan, which means steps that we will take once we go back to our country and implement those. We want to design the action plan in such a matter that it is tangible and obtainable."
"It's also networking," Tashi said. "We've made connections with amazing leaders here already. That gives you an idea of how you should take on and what confidence level you should have to run a business, for example. How do you see yourself as a woman running an organization? The U.S. Department of State and espnW, they're all women leaders. Just to take inspiration from them, it's amazing. These are definitely important skills which we in India don't see. We in India don't even have mentors to look at."
The Maliks felt they could send a powerful message by doing something seen as a "no-go" for women in India. The threat of frostbite, hypothermia or pneumonia while navigating unstable terrain in temperatures as low as minus-60 degrees Fahrenheit was real; Nungshi sustained frostbite on her little finger during the North Pole expedition and had no sensation for two days. It took up to three hours to pitch a tent with wind speeds slapping them in the face. During the Everest expedition, Nungshi had hypoxic conditions and hallucinations because she was oxygen deprived after her oxygen regulator malfunctioned, so Tashi had to share her mask. At one point it took the twins seven hours to advance 400 meters.
Everest was a personal dream, a craving and an obsession since Nungshi and Tashi ascended Kilimanjaro. Other climbers told them doing the seven summits is like a Hall of Fame for mountaineers. It was their way of inspiring Indian women to set high benchmarks in life.
"In the wilderness there's always a great sense of exhilaration," Nungshi said. "For us it's been a total revelation doing all the seven summits and skiing the North and South Pole. It's like a drug that keeps us alive."
"There's so much to learn from it," Tashi said. "You want to reach your goal and you're ready to work on all those challenges that stop you from reaching your goal, so I think you learn a great deal not only about leadership, but teamwork."
The twins started working with the League through their mentor Susan Cohig, the NHL's senior vice president of integrated marketing, on Monday and will remain until Oct. 9. Among their objectives is learning how to sell their concept to convince businesses to fund their foundation.
"Sports is kind of that central, unifying opportunity that helps them build confidence, that enables them to connect in a way with each other and mentors to be able to do things they would normally not be able to do," Cohig said. "For Nungshi and Tashi, it's really how we can use the strength of our business, and the experience that we have on sales, marketing and business operations, to help them think about what they want to accomplish with their foundation, and to go back and use that foundation to help create opportunities in India."