How Alison Levine Reached the Summit of Everest and Business

Chronicling an Inspirational Leader's Ascent

Into The Void: Alison Levine drags her sled toward the South Pole.
Erick Phillips, IceTrek
Into The Void: Alison Levine drags her sled toward the South Pole.

By Curt Schleier

Published January 24, 2014, issue of January 31, 2014.
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Ultimately, of course, we reach the summit — or at least the 50th floor. While the ladies who munch dine on hors d’oeuvres and sip wine in the back of the room, Levine and I find a quiet place in front where she recounts what by almost any standard is a surreal journey from Phoenix to the mountaintops of both the business and real worlds.

Her greatest hurdles were her illnesses, she says. Levine suffered from a rare electrical defect in her heart that remained undiagnosed until she was 17 years old. An early surgery and medication didn’t help; she made numerous trips to the emergency room before a new surgical technique cured the problem in 1996 — at age 30 — two years before she climbed her first major peak.

She dismisses the problem as being nothing now, in the same way she shrugs off her battle with Raynaud’s disease, which she was diagnosed with when she was 20. The disease limits blood flow to the skin, a condition exacerbated by — yes — cold and stress. “I’ve learned how to manage it,” she says.

It turns out Levine’s quixotic journey tackling the world’s largest windmills actually may be a genetic imperative inherited from her father, Jack. If the name Jack Levine is familiar it is because he was the special agent of the FBI who, in the early ’60s, spoke out against his boss, J. Edgar Hoover, accusing him of, among other malfeasances, anti-Semitism.

He further charged the bureau — and Hoover — of using the threat of the Communist Party as an excuse for numerous civil rights violations and unauthorized wire taps. Jack Levine “was labeled a threat to national security and railroaded out of the bureau. We have a copy of a letter that J. Edgar Hoover wrote to Bobby Kennedy, back when Bobby Kennedy was attorney general, asking to put a wiretap on my dad’s phone and keep his residence under surveillance.”

Hoover, she continues, “basically blocked” her father from taking the New York bar exam.

So the family picked up stakes and moved to Arizona — which “was still the wild West at the time” — looking for a new start. Hoover’s reach followed them there, but because of a court ruling in his favor, her father was able to take and pass the Arizona bar.

It was a relatively idyllic time. Levine remembers spending a lot of time on horses borrowed from a stable near her home, “riding two or three times a week.” She was also involved in community theater.

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