Apr 30, 2002
PR Newswire - USA
Six individuals with multiple sclerosis (MS) will traverse Denali (Mt. McKinley) in Alaska, one of the world's most dangerous mountain peaks, to raise awareness and inspire people with this neurological disease. Their effort marks the first time a group of people with a serious, chronic disease will climb one of the world's tallest mountains independent of able-bodied guides. The trip takes place May 16 - June 8, 2002.
Led by mountaineer and MS activist Eric Simons, age 47, of Boulder, CO, the group includes one woman and five men who are determined not only to conquer the 20,320-foot peak, but also to show that people with MS should always strive to achieve their goals.
"I want to tackle this mountain to challenge myself and motivate others. I'd like to show the MS community what we can do -- and focus on ability, not disability," says Simons. "We are doing it all on our own, and that's a very powerful statement."
Climbing North America's Tallest Peak
After arriving in Alaska, the climbers will fly directly to Denali Base Camp at 7,200 feet, where they will spend the first day practicing crevasse rescue techniques and arranging last minute details. The trip is expected to take three to four weeks -- longer than the average time of 17 days because they are a larger group with people of varying climbing experience. In addition to their illness, the group will combat harsh arctic conditions: temperatures as cold as 40 degrees below zero, high altitudes, 100-mile-per- hour winds and treacherous ice crevasses. Each climber will carry 50 pounds on their backs and in addition will pull 50-pound sleds to transport the necessary gear.
"This is the riskiest, most challenging mountain I've attempted so far," says Simons, who planned the trip to maximize safety. "We will be roped up every step of the way." The health of his fellow climbers is his utmost concern, especially at high altitudes. "Pushing your limits could bring on MS symptoms. Recovery time becomes a critical issue as we near the summit," Simons adds.
Champions of Courage
This is not Simons' first mountain climbing trip since his diagnosis with MS in 1995. An outdoorsman with 30 years of mountaineering experience, he climbed the highest peak in South America in 1999 to prove a point about the abilities of people with MS.
This feat inspired the creation of the Betaseron(R) Champions of Courage program (http://www.championsofcourage.org/ ), devoted to supporting efforts that will inspire people with MS (Simons serves as chairman). The Betaseron(R) Champions of Courage program is supporting two other members of the climbing team with grants to help cover their expenses: Ramon Sepulveda and Sean Clifford.
Ramon Sepulveda: 'Never in my wildest dreams'
In 1998, Ramon Sepulveda, age 48, a grandfather from Austin, TX, would never have imagined he'd be scaling one of the world's tallest mountains. He had just been diagnosed with MS and to him it was devastating. "The hardest part was not knowing how long my physical abilities would remain intact," recalls Sepulveda, who experiences occasional numbness, vision problems and muscle pain.
Sepulveda soon realized that in order to fight this disease, he needed to stay as active as possible and make the most of each day. He started daily workouts at the gym and on his road bike. He also took long-awaited trips with his family, spent more time with his children, and after hearing Eric Simons speak of his plans to climb Denali, volunteered to join the expedition. "My life made seismic changes when I was diagnosed," says Sepulveda. "There is nothing like the uncertainty of MS to get you going. It is the reason I am experiencing life more."
Sean Clifford: Accomplished Athlete Stays Focused on the Positive
For Sean Clifford, 37, of Vail, CO, staying active has always been a way of life. A triathlete who played college soccer and raced mountain bikes before his diagnosis with MS in 1999, Clifford skis or bikes every day to his job at a local ski resort. Though MS has slowed him down (he no longer runs up mountains), it hasn't impeded his active lifestyle and positive attitude, both of which have helped him to cope with his illness.
Clifford looks forward to the expedition and getting to know the other climbers. "I'm inspired by these people," he says. He hopes the climb encourages people with MS, especially the newly diagnosed. "MS does make life difficult," he admits. "But you have to hang in there and keep trying."
Funded by a grant from Berlex Laboratories Inc., the Betaseron(R) Champions of Courage program recognizes the accomplishments of people with MS and provides grants to support their inspirational activities. Since the program was introduced in 1999, more than 25 women and men have received grants to underwrite motivating projects. To apply for a grant, individuals must be taking the MS medication Betaseron(R), describe their community service activities, and outline how they will use a grant to inspire others. For more information visit http://www.championsofcourage.org/ , or call 1-800-788-1467.
Multiple sclerosis (MS) is a disease that randomly attacks the central nervous system, affecting the brain and spinal cord, wearing away control over the body. Symptoms may range from numbness to paralysis and blindness. Though no cure yet exists, there are now therapies available that can impact underlying disease course as well as manage symptoms. MS affects more than a third of a million people in the U.S. alone, with someone being newly diagnosed virtually each hour.
The 'MS Climb for the Cause' will benefit the Consortium of MS Centers (CMSC) and the Foundation of the CMSC. The CMSC is an organization dedicated to setting a standard of MS care throughout the world through education and research. For more information, visit http://www.mscare.org/ .
Contact: Liz Pendergast of Betaseron Champions of Courage, +1-202-363-3378
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