Taking MS to New Heights. Literally.
Lori Schneider didn’t tell anyone she had Multiple Sclerosis until six months after she received the diagnosis in 1999 (and then it was just family and her best friends). Fast-forward ten years, and anyone who reads the paper, surfs the Web, or watches TV knows. News outlets from BBC to NBC covered Lori’s May 23 climb of Mount Everest, the first successful ascent of the 29,035-foot peak – the tallest in the world -- by someone with MS.
“It took me some time to process what MS meant to me, but by the time I was on Everest, I felt it was an honor for me to carry the weight of the MS label,” Lori said from her home in Bayfield, Wisc. “To take the hopes of others who also have been diagnosed with MS with me to the summit was a good feeling.” During her 10 minutes on top of the world, Lori unfurled the flag of the first ever World MS Day, organized by the Multiple Sclerosis International Federation. “That was a powerful moment for me. Summiting Everest seemed an unbelievable dream, but there I was.”
Lori’s climb of Everest was the final challenge of her goal to climb the “Seven Summits,” the highest peak on each of the Seven Continents.
Lori was already a climber and avid traveler when, at age 43, she woke up one morning with numbness in over 50-percent of her body. Doctors did a spinal tap immediately, but the results were misread and MS was ruled out. Lori was told it could be a stroke, lupus, rheumatoid arthritis, Lyme Disease, or brain cancer. In two months the numbness had spread to her entire body. The day she was scheduled to have a brain biopsy a new doctor realized her spinal tap had been incorrectly read. A brain MRI confirmed the diagnosis of MS.
“When I first heard those two little letters – ‘MS’ -- I was scared. The diagnosis sounded so devastatingly fatal for me. I thought there was no other outcome than for me to immediately lose mobility. And that was terrifying for me because I was so active.”
In fact, Lori was in the middle of training to climb Aconcagua, the highest peak in South America, when she got the news. She planned to climb the mountain with her father over New Year’s. One of the reasons she initially kept her diagnosis from her family was because she was afraid her parents would be devastated and also want her to cancel the trip. “I knew I needed to continue to plan on the climb if I ever hoped to come to terms with the disease,” she says. “I needed to prove to myself that I could still move and had the power to attempt to live the life I wanted to.”
And the Aconcagua climb did just that. “Even more so than climbing Everest, it was climbing Aconcagua that I consider my victory over my fear of MS. It gave me my power back.” When Lori returned to her home in Steamboat, Colo. after that climb, she decided it was time to tell more people about her MS. “I thought that if I was strong enough to stand on top of that mountain, I was strong enough to tell people I had MS. I wasn’t worried anymore about what they would think.” She “came out” in an interview with Steamboat’s weekly newspaper.
While Lori was picking off the remaining six of the Seven Summits – North America’s Denali, Elbrus in Europe, Mt. Vinson in Antarctica, Mt. Kosciuszko in Australia and finally Everest (years before her MS diagnosis, but while she was experiencing symptoms of the disease -- numbness and tingling, she had previously climbed Kilimanjaro in Africa) -- she founded Empowerment Through Adventure and began traveling as an inspirational speaker.
“I’m just an ordinary person who came up with this extraordinary goal. Even if I hadn’t been successful, I’ve learned there’s still power in trying. Life is too short not to try. Getting that message out is more important and rewarding than standing on a summit.”
Learn more about Lori and Empowerment Through Adventure at www.EmpowermentThroughAdventure.com. In 2011, Lori plans on leading a team of people with MS on a trip to Kilimanjaro, the highest peak in Africa. Support this, and get a great piece of jewelry, by buying one of Lori’s Leap of Faith pendants: http://www.donaleedesigns.com/proddetail.asp?prod=ddeta101
A portion of pendant proceeds go to a Scholarship Fund for Kilimanjaro MS climbers.