TD Cares: Why one TD employee scaled the Himalayas for veterans in need

In the early hours of April 16, 2018, Thomas Jedrej kept his head down. He tried to stay calm as he placed one foot in front of the other as he approached the 20,000-foot peak of Lobuche East mountain, next to Mount Everest in Nepal.

And as Jedrej finally ascended the summit to watch the peach sunrise beaming off the snowy peaks of Mount Everest—he reflected on the journey that he and his fellow expeditioners, including a group of Canadian veterans, had taken together to get to this moment.

Two years before the climb, Jedrej had joined a fundraising committee to help Canadian veterans called the True Patriot Love foundation. His idea was to help fundraise to support Canada’s men and women in uniform as they transitioned back to civilian life.

After two successful fundraising years for the committee, Jedrej was presented with the opportunity to participate in the organization's expedition to commemorate the 65th anniversary of Sir Edmund Hillary’s iconic first ascent of Mount Everest. Participation was conditional on Jedrej fundraising a minimum of $50,000, paying all travel related costs and committing to mentoring one of the veterans for a year after the Expedition.

To mark the anniversary, Peter Hillary, Sir Edmund’s son and a two-time Everest conqueror, would guide a group of expeditioners on a once-in-a-lifetime trek to Everest Base Camp, with the option to ascend the 20,000-foot peak of Lobuche East.

Jedrej had no prior mountaineering experience, but he knew the expedition would be an exciting challenge and an opportunity to raise money that would be used to help Canada's more than 700,000 veterans (and their families) as they make the often difficult transition to civilian life through peer-to-peer counselling, mental health and physical rehabilitation programs and job placement.

"Between managing my work schedule, family life, regular physical training and appealing to the generosity of donors in order to meet the fundraising requirement, conquering the Himalayas was proving no easy task," said Jedrej, who spent countless hours hiking in Collingwood, Ontario, to train.

On April 1, 2018, Jedrej, Peter Hillary and 22 other climbers, veterans and Sherpas began their expedition, a journey that brought them closer together and had them working as a team as they braved the cold and began hearing the personal stories of the veterans they climbed alongside.

"We would occasionally come together around the fire where the veterans would share their stories and the hardships of returning to civilian life," recalled Jedrej. "It was equally inspiring and heartbreaking to learn about the struggles veterans face when returning from service, especially when many are suffering from post-traumatic stress disorder."

As they made their way closer to the summit, the strength and mental capacity required to overcome the physical challenges of the climb became more apparent, and Jedrej focused on pushing past his own physical limits.

In all, Jedrej raised a total of $126,000 with the help of his network, exceeding his goal and making him the number one fundraiser on the expedition. This includes a $10,000 donation that the bank made to the True Patriot Love foundation as TD has been a supporter of the organization over the years.

"I wanted to demonstrate to my colleagues the importance of doing something special to bring awareness to a worthy cause. When people are active and interested in bettering their community great things happen. Together we can push the limits."