At the top
Published by: Superior Telegram
August 21, 2009

 

Lori Schneider stands at the summit of Mt. Everest holding a World MS Day banner. The banner was shipped into Katmandu, than carted by yak for two weeks until it caught up with Schneider. The Bayfield woman carried it to the top of the mountain, keeping in mind the people with MS who struggle to do daily tasks that others take for granted. She hopes to empower others by sharing her story. (Submitted Photo)

Lori Schneider was not alone the day she reached the summit of Mt. Everest.

As the Bayfield woman stood in the blowing snow May 23, those who followed her progress online and on air were there in spirit.

“We all went to the top with Lori,” said Sen. Bob Jauch, D-Poplar, who still has a link to Lori’s climbing blog on his Web site.

E-mails flew between friends in Bayfield as they kept track of Schneider’s climb.

“I think the whole town watched and climbed with her,” said Dee Johnson of Bayfield.

Mike Simonson, a Wisconsin Public Radio reporter, called Schneider every Friday during the climb. She began to jokingly refer to him as her “Friday night date.” He said the experience was unique.

“To bring her voice onto the radio to Wisconsin Public Radio listeners around the state was a privilege,” Simonson said. “It not only made me feel like I was there but I believe it also brought listeners to Mt. Everest and this incredible trek.”

Schneider became the first person in the world with MS to complete the Seven Summits, reaching the tip of the highest peak on each continent. Her father, who was with Schneider when she reached her first summit, Mt. Kilamanjaro in 1993, was also on Everest with her. She was able to reach him via satellite phone. With tears freezing on her face Schneider cried, “I made it! I made it!”

As she took the last few steps to the mountaintop, the Bayfield woman’s thoughts were focused on the World MS Day banner she carried in her backpack and what it stood for.

“I felt I carried the hopes and dreams of a lot of people with MS to the summit with me,” Schneider said.

Johnson will never forget what Schneider told her about those last steps: That she was thinking about all of the people with MS who have to work this hard to walk across a room in their house.

“That’s the kind of person she is,” Johnson said. “She was thinking about other people.”

When Scheider returned to Bayfield, the entire town turned out to welcome her back with a parade. Her ability to follow her dreams and maintain a positive attitude has inspired others, especially in the small town of Bayfield, Johnson said.

For someone who spent so much time touching the clouds, Schneider is quite down-to-earth. She openly talked of waking up with the left half of her body numb in 1999. After numerous tests, she was diagnosed with MS. Giving up a 20-year teaching career in Colorado, she moved to Wisconsin to be closer to family.

“I ran away from my life,” she said. “I was so fearful of what would happen.”

She let the fear take over for about a year.

But in 2000, she climbed Mt. Acancagua in South America with her father. He was unable to summit, but Schneider did. The end of his climbing career was the beginning of hers. The climb was a confidence builder. Since then, she has put worry behind her.

“I don’t define myself by my physical body anymore,” Schneider said. “It’s really the person you are inside that makes all the difference.”

She accelerated her pace, climbing mountains in Europe, Colorado, Australia and Antarctica before finishing with Everest.

Those climbs are over, but a new mountain has appeared in her life.

“I’m reinventing myself at 53,” Schneider said. The Bayfield woman will now reach out to others as an inspirational speaker. It’s a career she’s well suited for, said Simonson.

She’ll encourage people to get out of their comfort zone and do the extraordinary,” he said. “She’ll also tell about overcoming obstacles, both physical and mental. I can’t think of a better person to do that than Lori Schneider.”

She kicks off that new passage in her life with two nights of inspiration at STAGENORTH Theater in Washburn next week. The speaker weaves together her story of climbing the mountains of the world along with those mountains in her own life.

“We all have so many mountains in life to climb,” Schneider said. She encourages everyone to scale them the same way she tackled Everest: “One step at a time.”

The two presentations include a slide show of her climbs and a chance to look at the gear she used. For those who have followed her trek online and on air, this is a chance to see it up close and personal, to meet the woman who didn’t let MS destroy her dreams.

Schneider continues to kayak, dog sled and sail in the Bayfield area. She hopes to one day lead an expedition to the summit of Mt. Kilamanjaro for others with MS.

If she could pass one thing on, the international mountain climber would ask others to believe in themselves and follow their dreams.

“Take a leap of faith in your own life and see where it leads you,” Schneider said.

The Bayfield woman will speak at STAGENORTH Theater at 7:30 p.m. on Aug. 26 and 27. Tickets are $15 for adults, $13 for seniors and $8 for students. For more information or to reserve tickets, call (715) 373-1194 or visit www.stagenorth.com. To learn more about Schneider, visit her Web site, www.empowermentthroughadventure.com.