Preston Rudie. Rudie, 54, is the founder and CEO of Catalyst Communication Group in Tampa, one of the top public relations firms in the city. Rudie spent a good chunk of his career in Tampa and Wisconsin working as a journalist on TV, radio and print. He also worked as communications director and district director for former U.S. Rep. David Jolly. Rudie started Catalyst, which also handles government affairs and crisis management for clients, in 2017.
Rudie climbed Mount Kilimanjaro in September 2023. One would assume a climb like that was the culmination of years — if not decades — of preparation. But it wasn’t. Rudie is a seasoned traveler long fascinated with mountain climbing and the Seven Summits — the highest mountain on each continent. About seven years ago, he started thinking he wanted to try to climb one. He chose Kilimanjaro, in Tanzania, Africa, because it is generally regarded as the easiest, he says. Rudie had hoped to climb it in 2020, but the pandemic stopped that.
Why climb 1: Rudie was motivated to make the climb, in large part, for two reasons. When he initially got the idea, it seemed a fun thing to do. But his life evolved over the last several years and he began to think about the climb on a deeper level. For one, he wanted to pass on a lesson for his now 8-year-old daughter, London. “I wasn't thinking four years ago the same way that I'm thinking now,” he says. “She continues to get older (and) I want to show her that if you put your mind to something you can do it.
Why climb 2: The other reason? His job. Rudie says he worked seven days a week and that, on the low end, put in more than 60 hours per week. The climb, he says, was “a way for me to take back my life.” To get ready, he had to go to the gym each morning rather than starting work at 7 a.m. It also meant stepping away from his desk to take walks — for exercise purposes — along Bayshore Boulevard in the middle of the day. “It's okay to take that hour out of my schedule,” he says. “And that's hard when you're programmed to work, work, work, work, work, work. And so this was about taking my life back and then really showing my daughter. Which is why, mentally, I knew there was not anything that was going to stop me from getting to the top of that mountain.”
Get ready: Making the decision to climb Kilimanjaro was just the first step. While his family was supportive, there were conversations about his safety that included life insurance. The climb is safe, Rudie says, but things happen, and they wanted to be prepared for the worst. To get ready physically, he joined Orangetheory and worked out up to four times a week along with the daily walks. The idea was to remain active seven days a week. And then, four months before the climb, Rudie really started to focus in. That meant harder workouts and a dramatic change to his diet — no more sodas and carbs, snacking, instead, on fruits and nuts. He lost 16 pounds.
Almost didn’t make it: “I felt really good about it up until about a week and a half before the trip,” Rudie says. That’s when his leg started hurting. At first, he thought it was overtraining. But that wasn’t the problem. It turned out he pulled a muscle in his groin and needed a combination of different ibuprofens and some Tylenol to ease the pain. A friend of his on the trip was a medic and brought Toradol, an anti-inflammatory drug so he could make it to the top. “It’s not until, to be quite honest with you, the last week or so, that it's finally gone down and I'm going to be able to get back into the gym,” Rudie says four days before Christmas. “It was a pretty severe pull. I actually thought that it might have been a hernia.”
The climb: The climb lasted nine days. Rudie and eight others reached the summit of Mount Kilimanjaro Sept. 22 at 2:10 p.m. local time. Looking out at the world from19.340 feet up was euphoric, a dream, he says. But it wasn’t long before the reality set in that going down is tougher than going up. A large part of that, he says, is the letdown. “It's just that you're done but you have this long distance to go to come back down.”
Next one: Rudie plans on getting back into the gym and is shooting to climb Aconcagua in Argentina in 2026. That is the highest mountain in South America and about 3,000 feet higher than Kilimanjaro. “It's nicknamed The Death Mountain,” he says. “It's only got about a 30% success rate on getting to the summit. And it's the highest mountain in the world outside of the Himalayas.”
The business survived: “I did not lose any business,” Rudie says. “No clients complained. In fact, I think that they were super supportive of it. But it really was kind of a test. And it has really helped me since I've been back to kind of adjust to a slightly different role than I had before.”
Louis Llovio is the commercial real estate editor at the Business Observer. Before going to work at the Observer, the longtime business writer worked at the Richmond Times-Dispatch, Maryland Daily Record and for the Baltimore Sun Media Group. He lives in Tampa.