Frisco resident begins pursuit for state summits world record while raising awareness for living kidney donors

Team will also attempt to set the fastest known time for summiting the highest mountain peaks in the contiguous 48 states

National Kidney Registry/Courtesy photo
Dave Ashley, left, Jodi Harskamp and Frisco resident Jay Irwin pose for a photo before beginning their quest to break the world speed record for the 50 U.S. state summits. The trio are all living kidney donors and are climbing with the National Kidney Registry in order to raise awareness and break stereotypes around kidney donation.
National Kidney Registry/Courtesy photo

A little over a year after climbing up Mount Kilimanjaro in order to raise awareness for kidney donations, Frisco resident Jay Irwin has set his eyes on a new feat of endurance and mountaineering.

In collaboration with the National Kidney Registry, Irwin, Dave Ashley and Jodi Harskamp — all living kidney donors — will attempt to set a new world speed record for reaching every U.S. state’s highest point. While attempting to shatter the current record of 43 days, 3 hours and 51 minutes, Irwin and the National Kidney Registry team will also try to break the misconception that there are physical limits on living kidney donors.

Irwin became a living kidney donor when he decided to donate one of his kidneys to his good friend Bill Petersen in November 2019. Irwin was inspired to give up a kidney to Petersen, the man who saved his life when he was caught in an avalanche while skiing on Vail Pass in 2008.

Petersen has since died, but his spirit continues to live on through Irwin and will fuel him as he summits the highest peaks across the U.S.

“Being able to go to all the 50 states’ summits is kind of a fun experience and then to be able to do it with two other living kidney donors is pretty special,” Irwin said. 

Much like Irwin’s quest to the top of Kilimanjaro, Irwin and the National Kidney Registry team will be faced with many challenges over the course of the project. Irwin says some of the toughest aspects of the project are figuring out the logistics of the trip and making sure the team stays on pace to break the official Guinness World Record, while also trying to set the fastest known time (19 days, 7 hours, 17 minutes) for summiting the highest mountain peaks in the 48 contiguous states.

“The key thing is not being able to rest,” Irwin said. “There will certainly be some challenges when we end up doing Rainer in the same day that we do Mount Hood. They are both incredible climbs that will be back-to-back. We will need to rest up our bodies for the four-hour drive in between them.”

National Kidney Registry/Courtesy photo
Frisco resident Jay Irwin poses for a photo before beginning the quest to break the world speed record for the 50 U.S. state summits.
National Kidney Registry/Courtesy photo

Irwin says the biggest thing he and the team will keep in mind while trying to set the new records is making sure everyone is taking their temperature on a daily basis and regularly checking how they are feeling on a physical and mental level. 

“The key thing is making sure we are pushing our bodies, but that we are not pushing them too hard,” Irwin said. 

Beyond the support Irwin will receive from Ashley and Harskamp, Irwin is also grateful to have support from Emily Polet-Monterosso and Dr. Matthew Harmody, who both climbed with Irwin up Kilimanjaro. 

Polet-Monterosso and Harmody will be serving as drivers and support crew for the team and attempt to make the trip feel more homey.

“We are going to get in and we are going to be exhausted,” Irwin said. “We need them to have those comforts of home when we get back to the RV. They will make sure they have some hot vegetable soup broth brewed up or water and coffee.”

Irwin and the team began its quest for a new world speed record and fastest known time on May 19, starting the clock at the base of Mount Denali in Alaska. The team spent the last week climbing the mountain and stopping at different mid-mountain camps along the way in order to acclimatize to the change in elevation.

As of Saturday morning, the team had made it to a camp at 17,000 feet and is waiting for the right conditions to reach the summit.


After the team reaches the top of Denali, they will fly to Hawaii to climb Mauna Kea. After Mauna Kea, the team will return to contiguous 48 states to meet Polet-Monterosso and Dr. Harmody with the RV in Chicago.

The team will follow a counter-clockwise route across the Lower 48, which will allow the trio of climbers to rest in the Midwest before hitting the longer climbs in the West. The team hopes to conclude the project at the top of Mount Katahdin in Maine by June 28.

“That will kind of be the latest we would want to see us do it,” Irwin said. “We have scheduled it so that if everything goes right, we can do it in as little as 21 days. It is going to be somewhere between those points. I think it is going to be dependent on when we can get Denali done in that weather window. We will have to see how the weather gods, the travel gods and all that smile on us.”

Beyond trying to set a new world speed record and fastest known time, Irwin hopes to raise more awareness for living kidney donors and create lifetime bonds with his fellow climbers.

“I always tell people that you can live an ordinary life after donating a kidney and people always laugh saying my life is not quite ordinary when going out doing these things,” Irwin said. “We want to finish this off as lifelong friends and with an amazing experience together. We will be bonded on this one.I will be proud if we end up doing it, but more importantly I want it for the experience together.”

To follow along with the journey of Irwin and the National Kidney Registry team, visit the team’s Facebook page:

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