Marysol Cuadrado, a fourth-year sociology major, learned this summer that she is able to achieve whatever she sets her mind to and refuses to let her disabilities get in the way of her living life to the fullest.

Cuadrado traveled to Peru this summer for nine days through Cal Poly Pomona’s study abroad program, based out of the International Center. During her time in Peru, Cuadrado achieved one of her life-long dreams — successfully climbing the famous stairs of Machu Picchu.

Machu Picchu is a historical Inca sanctuary known for its vast topography and remarkable architecture. Built in the 15th century, located on the east side of the Andes mountains, with over 3,000 steps, it’s no surprise it’s one of the seven wonders of the world.

Marysol Cuadrado, with a stuffed Billy Bronco in tow, pauses on her way to the top of Machu Picchu. Courtesy of Marysol Cuadrado)

Cuadrado suffers from scoliosis and a neuromuscular disorder that causes weakness in her arms and legs, requiring her to use a walker when needed. Due to her disabilities, Cuadrado never thought climbing all the way up to the top of Machu Picchu was in the cards for her.

“Initially I thought I was just going to go visit the site of Machu Picchu and just look at it from the entrance,” Cuadrado said. “I wasn’t expecting to actually climb the stairs. Once I arrived I was informed the school arranged for me to have my own personal tour guide. The tour guide helped me every step of the way.”

The tour guide and Cuadrado steadily climbed the 7,970-foot-high trek up the mountain over a span of six hours, where the average trip is about an hour and half. They gradually navigated each set of stairs at a steady pace while taking a break at each platform.

Once Cuadrado reached her destination at the top, “The Temple of the Sun,” she was overwhelmed with emotions.

“I had never felt that type of happiness before. I cried for 20 minutes when I made it to the top,” Cuadrado recalled as tears brimmed in her eyes. “It was an immense feeling of joy that is hard to describe. I felt so accomplished. I was in pain, but the pain was worth it.”

Marysol Cuadrado got to visit Peru and climb Machu Picchu this summer as part of CPP’s study aborad program. (Courtesy of Marysol Cuadrado)

Cuadrado, who plans to attend law school once she graduates from CPP, said it was significantly harder and more painful on the descent down due to the un-level ground. Despite being in pain, Cuadrado came back home a different person.

“Before the trip, Marysol only thought she was going to get her passport stamped for visiting Machu Picchu,” said Ana Valencia, who has been friends with Cuadrado since 2011. “But when I talked to her over the phone after she climbed it, she was so happy she was able to climb it, she was crying when she was telling me. She has always been a positive and daring person but now I think she is less fearful, she will not let her physical condition stop her from pursuing her dreams.”

Although Valencia is currently studying radio broadcasting at Mt. San Antonio College, she frequently comes to CPP to assist Marysol in setting up her scooter, and helps her with her backpack or any other things she might need assistance with.

“I know I can now achieve the unimaginable,” Cuadrado said. “I truly do think we are our own worst critic. Now I plan on taking advantage of opportunities that come my way, and I encourage other students to take advantage of the resources we have on campus.”

If it were not for the support of the International Center, Cuadrado said she most likely would have never ended up climbing Machu Picchu. The International Center provided her with her own personal tour guide who pushed her to fulfill one of her lifelong dreams.

For more information about CPP’s study abroad programs, visit the International Center located in Building 1, room 104. They offer a variety of options from faculty-led trips to exchange student programs, to independent excursions. China, Italy, London, Dubai, Hong Kong, Costa Rica and Peru are just a few of the destinations that are offered.

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