What do Mt. Everest and Rosemary Beach Have in Common? This Man.
There is nothing like coming home again, and Kent Stewart should know. A longtime homeowner at Rosemary Beach, Stewart has spent the last decade climbing the world’s highest mountains on the seven continents. Today, only Everest remains. After a few setbacks, including when Kent was at Everest Base Camp in 2015 when the devastating earthquake hit Nepal and twenty two lives were lost on the mountain, a commitment to climb Everest successfully is still a goal.
Stewart recently said in a podcast interview, “When you are on the mountain, you question why you are there. It started with the first mountain, Kilimanjaro, that we climbed. There were several times I wanted to turn around and go home.”
Of course, when your vacation home is in Rosemary Beach, that’s understandable. Kent is founder and CEO of Reli Settlement Solutions, LLC, a title insurance and real estate closing firm headquartered in Birmingham, Alabama. Reli has fourteen offices in three states, including Florida. Kent was introduced to the Emerald Coast almost 35 years ago when he married his wife, Julie, who grew up visiting her grandparents at their beach cottage in Grayton Beach. “In the early years,” he remembers, “we rented a house in Seaside. We stumbled upon Rosemary Beach when there were only a handful of houses and fell in love with the property and the vision of the community.”
There is quite a contrast between the weather of Mount Everest, with its average of subzero temperatures (it can drop to a low of -76 degrees F), and Rosemary Beach, where the average spring temperature is a more comfortable 75 degrees without a snowflake in sight. Kent and Julie spend as much time as possible at Rosemary when not at home in Birmingham. Their adult children Tanner and Taylor live in Brooklyn and Nashville. “Our kids grew up coming to Rosemary and we have so many wonderful memories going back almost 20 years. Some of our closest friends were met here, and we all feel fortunate to have discovered this very special place.” Kent and Julie bought the second home built on the north side of 30A before building their current home on the south side ten years ago. “There is a real sense of community in Rosemary that you don’t find in many places,” Kent adds.
The lure of Rosemary Beach is hard to ignore. From the cobblestone streets, flickering gas lamps, tranquil gardens and the vibrant Main Street with its boutiques, art galleries and a selection of restaurants, the town provides an overall nostalgic feel of a bygone era.
“There are so many wonderful options in Rosemary Beach,” Kent offers. “We love having a cocktail or glass of wine at The Pearl’s Rooftop Lounge. We also enjoy having lunch at the Summer Kitchen Café and dinner at Restaurant Paradis. Wine tastings at Wild Olives are popular and Willow Boutique is a shopping favorite of Julie’s.” But with Rosemary Beach centrally located to other beach communities along 30A, it’s easy to hop on your bike and find yourself at some other nearby favorites. “We also love George’s at Alys Beach and the new restaurant Amici 30A. Café Tango and Borago are just a short car ride away.”
But with another Everest climb hopefully on the horizon, days spent casually at the beach or biking to favorite restaurants may be winding down. As part of a rigorous training program, which can include wearing a weighted backpack while spending five hours at one time on a Stairmaster, Kent is the first to admit that preparing for a climb is all consuming. Thankfully, he has the complete support of his family, particularly Julie, who has successfully climbed five of the seven summits along with him. He even admits that early on she was the stronger partner on some of their climbs. “Climbing,” according to Kent, “is a mental grind. It’s a long time to be away from home. The climbs are usually in a hostile environment and every move you make is difficult at such high altitudes.” Yet the motivation to complete Everest remains strong. “Climbing has totally changed our lives and I wonder what type person I’d be without having done this.”
But he is the first to admit that there is life after Everest. During his last attempt in April of 2016, Stewart was diagnosed with what was thought to be HAPE (High Altitude Pulmonary Edema) and his climb was ended. Upon returning to Birmingham, he was instead told he had three coronary blockages and was immediately rushed into surgery. In a matter of just a few weeks Kent went from training for Mount Everest to recovering from open heart surgery. “I used to think that I could never be satisfied if I didn’t eventually stand on top of the world. I made the mistake of connecting my self worth to reaching the summits of these great peaks. I was slow to realize that, in the end, it is the journey that really matters…maybe that’s the answer I was seeking all along.”
Staying active is something that Kent vows to continue long after the climbing is over. Asked what a perfect day in Rosemary would be, he didn’t hesitate. “For us, it is a bike ride from Rosemary to the opposite end of 30A. We have lunch at Stinky’s Fish Camp and then take our time biking home. A cocktail on the beach with friends has become a tradition followed by a nice dinner at one of the area’s outstanding restaurants.”
But, first, there’s a mountain to climb.