1st Sep, 2002
Karen J Zielinski
Real Living with Multiple Sclerosis
"IT'S NOT JUST ABOUT THE CLIMB," said Wendy Booker, "It's about using your MS as a catapult to achieve your personal dreams."
Wendy is 48 years old and has MS. She's the sole woman climber attempting to climb Mount McKinley in Denali National Park, Alaska, as part of a seven-person, nonguided climbing team-six climbers have MS. Diagnosed 4 years ago, the mother of three from Manchester, Mass., hopes to be the first woman to reach the summit of Denali.
How It All Started
In June of 1998, Wendy was diagnosed with relapsing-remitting MS. Her first symptoms were numbness on her left side, fatigue, and balance problems. Prior to her diagnosis, the interior designer had always been a runner. She said, "I just did it. I ran before my MS and wanted to keep it up. I felt that as long as I was physically active I was in control of this disease."
Wendy decided to run the Boston Marathon in 2000 for herself, and a year later in 2001, for "all those who have MS." It was after that marathon that the mountain climbing adventure started.
"I heard about Eric Simmon, who originally had the idea for the climb and then went out to seek sponsors and climbers for the team. It has all kind of snowballed from there! I contacted him, and our plans for Climb for the Cause, MS Denali 2002 were on their way."
Clay Roscoe, 32, is also on the climb. Diagnosed in 1990 with relapsing-remitting MS, Clay lives in Philadelphia, Pa., with his wife. He is a fourth-year medical student. Clay's initial MS symptoms were numbness that spread from his collarbone to his elbow. He has had a number of climbing experiences dating from 1994 to the present, including Mt. Rainier in Washington state, Chimborazo (Ecuador), and various rock and ice climbing ascents.
Jim Dokoozian, 48, lives in Anchorage, Alaska. He was diagnosed with relapsing-- remitting MS in 1995. His first symptoms were numbness in the left foot and leg. He, too, has had an impressive climbing history, including the Grand Tetons and Mount Owen in Wyoming, Denali, and Ptarmigan Peak-Northwest Face.
Goal of the Climb
Wendy explained that the Climb for the Cause is not a fund-raising mission, but rather a symbolic or motivational climb to inspire others with the disease. She feels MS is "an ability, not a disability, so the Climb for the Cause should inspire people with MS to follow their dream whatever it is, and achieve it. Perhaps someone who uses a wheelchair or a cane might teach literacy, or help with a neighborhood project. The climb is meant to send a message of hope to those in the MS community that there is much information out there about our disease, and a number of drug therapies available to start on as soon as you can with your physician's approval."
Training for the Climb
Wendy realizes that not everyone with MS could climb a mountain even if that were his or her dream. "This event is not realistic for everyone, but more symbolic, a personal challenge. But MS might inspire people to look inside themselves and see what they want to accomplish, to find their passion and go for it. Everyone has to be realistic about his or her limitations physically, and talk with their physician. Their 'climb' might be going to work everyday, or doing a physical therapy program, or sticking to their injectable medications when they get sick from side effects. Those mountains are just as real a climb as the summit of Mt. McKinley. I could not have done any of this mountain climbing before my diagnosis. It spurred me on to other things."
Hours of Training
Preparation for the climb has been under way for about a year. Wendy runs 25 to 30 miles a week and alternates 3 days a week weight training with working out on a StairMaster with a 35-pound backpack for 3 to 3.5 miles. She took winter mountaineering, as well as snow and ice travel courses. She ascended Mount Washington and did a winter traverse of the Presidential Ridge in New Hampshire.
At the end of March, she completed an 8-- day Denali prep class in the Cascades in Washington, DC. Wendy said, "If you do not pass that, you do not go...because you would not be safe on Mount Denali, and it would not be fair to yourself or the team, since each climber is an important part of the team."
Wendy's husband, Wayne, and sons Alex, 13; Jeff, 18; and Chris, 24, made a family decision to support her in the climb. She said, "I couldn't have done it without them, because you can't take on a mission like this without their support." Her three sons like the "cool mountain stuff."
When will it happen?
The team gathered in Anchorage, Alaska, in May to assemble supplies before traveling to Talkeetna, where they took a ski plane to the Kahiltna Glacier. At 7,200 feet, Kahiltna is home to base camp and the jumping-off point for a 3- to-5 week arduous trek up steep ice and over crevasses to the summit via the West Business route. Wendy, Clay, and Jim all take medication to manage their disease and will continue their drug therapy schedule even high on the mountain.
If all goes well, depending on weather, the team hoped to reach the summit in 21 days. Because of the altitude, climbers must move very slowly, carry their gear, and then sleep. They must be fastidious in their actions on snow and ice, and must stay hydrated.
Wendy advised others with MS to figure out what they want to do in their life, check with their physician, and if the doctor approves, try it. Whether the team gets to summit the mountain, Wendy knows the dream for everyone with MS has been accomplished." She encourages people not to give up their dreams.
Various pharmaceutical companies sponsor the team and mountain climbing
companies provide climbing equipment. The climb can be followed and the
ascent tracked by logging on to www.climbforthecause.com. Teva Neuroscience,
Inc. is sponsor of the Climb for the Cause.
© 2002 Real Living with Multiple Sclerosis