News & Current Affairs

July 12, 2009

Overcoming MS to scale Everest

Filed under: Latest, Travel — Tags: , , , , , , , , — expressyoureself @ 5:00 am

Overcoming MS to scale Everest

Ten years after she was diagnosed with multiple sclerosis (MS), Lori Schneider decided she wanted to scale the highest peak on every continent.

She achieved this last month by making it to the summit of the world’s most famous mountain, Mount Everest.

Climbing Mt Everest is a challenge for anyone – even if they are young and in the peak of health – but the 53-year-old from Wisconsin is the first person with MS ever to reach the summit.

Ms Schneider, an avid climber, first dreamed of climbing Everest 16 years ago.

But a diagnosis of MS in 1999 was a blow for the former school teacher.

When she first got the news, her initial reaction was to run, rather than climb.

“I ran away, I was fearful of what I thought I was losing in my life,” she said.

“I didn’t want people feeling sorry for me. I was doing plenty of that for myself at that point, I was feeling like my physical life was over.”

Diagnosis

Ms Schneider first noticed something was wrong when she woke up one morning with numbness in the leg and arm on one side of her body.

Lori Schneider on Everest
I think the real hardship on Everest is maintaining a positive attitude for two months
Lori Schneider

The condition progressed to the side of her face, and eventually both sides of her body.

Doctors initial thought she might have had a stroke or be suffering from brain cancer.

It took several months before she was correctly diagnosed.

After overcoming her initial fear and panic, she says the diagnosis actually empowered her to reach for her dreams.

“For 20 years I taught children: ‘Don’t be afraid, take a chance, try’, and when I was doing these climbs trying to climb the highest peak on each continent, I thought I’ll do them all but Everest, because that’s too hard for me.”

“When I got diagnosed I thought: ‘Just don’t be afraid to try, do the things in your life that maybe you dreamed about’.”

Her aspiration has not been without its costs. Following her dreams meant leaving behind a 20-year teaching career and a 22-year marriage.

Three years ago she climbed the highest peak in North America – Mount McKinley (also known by its native American name of Denali) in Alaska.

For those in the mountaineering know, it is considered the coldest mountain in the world with temperatures overnight capable of dropping to -50C.

After Everest, Asia’s highest peak, and Aconcagua, South America’s highest peak, it is the third highest of the so-called “Seven Summits”.

After coming back down she started to lose some of her vision, another symptom of MS. But that did not deter her.

To climb Everest, the cost was financial, rather than physical – she used all her savings, sold her home and took out a loan.

“I’ve been very, very fortunate the last several years. My MS has been pretty stable and quiet in my system,” she said.

“I think the real hardship on Everest is maintaining a positive attitude for two months.”

The summit

Climbers of Everest face some of the most treacherous conditions imaginable; along with battling hypothermia, there is also altitude sickness, physical exhaustion, and the isolation of being up the mountain for so long.

The Seven Summits
Mt Everest
Asia – Everest, 8848m
South America – Aconcagua, 6959m
North America – McKinley, 6194m
Africa – Kilimanjaro, 5895m
Europe – Elbrus, 5642m
Antarctica – Mt Vinson, 4897m
Australasia – Carstensz Pyramid, 4884m

But with the help of letters and photos of friends, family and supporters, she kept herself positive and after more than eight weeks, fighting through a blizzard, she made it to the top.

In achieving her goal, she has joined some of the world’s most accomplished climbers and bested many others.

“It was very surreal, you couldn’t see anything [because of the blizzard], so I couldn’t see the beauty that surrounded me.”

“We had to rush down so fast, but I did get a chance to give my father a call and yell: ‘I made it, I made it’.”

“It wasn’t until the next morning when I woke up in my tent after climbing for 17 hours the day before, and then all of the sudden I thought: ‘Oh my gosh, I just climbed Mt Everest yesterday!’.”

But she says making it to the summit is just a bonus.

The real achievement, she says, is that in coming to terms with MS and the possibility that she may one day lose her mobility, she has been able to face down her fears.

“Who you are inside… that’s what’s important. That will always be there,” she said.

“Whether my legs carry me up a mountain or not, I’m still who I am deep inside.”

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