"One day I awoke with numbness in half of my body overnight, and my whole world came crashing down around me." Lori Schneider took to the mountains and finally last spring stood on a stormy Everest summit, ten years after being diagnosed with Multiple Sclerosis.
She had learnt a great deal about overcoming fear by climbing, one by one, the 7 Summits. I realized that through the process I had become brave, and no longer feared for my future, she told ExplorersWeb.
Lori's is an example of the peculiar situation many adventurers describe; how in the face of disaster one can discover the full potential of life. With yet another Everest season kicking off, Lori shares the lesson she learned on her way to the top of the world: Success is in the journey.
ExplorersWeb.com: Youve always been outdoorsy but it was only after you were diagnosed with MS that you decided to complete the 7Summits. What happened?
Lori: Growing up in Wisconsin, I was never an athlete. After college, I moved to Colorado and I enjoyed hiking and being outdoors, but my true passion was travel.
Then, one day I awoke with numbness in half of my body overnight, and my whole world came crashing down around me.
When I got diagnosed with Multiple Sclerosis, a disease that affects the central nervous system and often makes walking difficult, I felt my physical life was about to end. I made a decision to accelerate my love of travel and the mountains, and climb the highest peak on each of the seven continents.
Climbing was something that began as my father's dream. Later it became a goal for me as well, because it was a way for us to spend time together. We were able to climb two mountains together, Kili and Aconcagua, forming a bond that neither of us will ever forget.
ExplorersWeb.com But going for the 7Summits involves a rather high risk of failure, particularly on Everest
Lori: For twenty years I taught special education and elementary education. My goal as a teacher was to help children believe in themselves and not be afraid to try.
In climbing the 7 Summits it was my turn to learn those very lessons. In attempting a goal as lofty as Everest, I gave myself permission to try. I had to believe in myself, in order to live my dreams. Sure, I may not always succeed at what I attempt, but there is no failure in that.
I needed to prove to myself that I was still in control of my physical body, and that I still needed to challenge myself, no matter what diagnosis in life I was given. The success is in the journey...it is always in the journey.
ExplorersWeb.com: In a previous email you said that the Seven Summits got easier with each passing year." How could that be with your illness and in that sense - which was the hardest for you?
Lori: For me, climbing the 7 Summits was a journey of both physical and mental strength. In my younger years, I thought I was invincible and that my body could do just about anything I set my mind to. How surprised I was when I took those final steps to the top of my first mountain, Kilimanjaro, and found how difficult they truly were. I grew tougher as each mountain peak called me.
I learned to train harder for the physical as well as the mental challenge.
For me physically, Denali was the mountain that took my climbing to the next level. Knowing that even a tame mountain like Kili could be a challenge, I needed to get my body in the best physical shape I possibly could. I trained about 4 hours a day, lifting weights and hiking with a heavy pack. I knew I would have to carry about 60 pounds on my back, as well as pull another 60 pounds in a sled behind me while on Denali. It was certainly a huge physical challenge for me, being a 50 year old woman of 120 pounds, but knowing what I was up against was half the battle.
Then, Everest was the mental challenge I needed to face head on. I had to overcome my fear of failure. "What if my legs were not strong enough? What if my MS were to cause numbness again? What if it was even scarier than all the things I had read?"
I began to tell myself..."Do not let fear in!" I knew that a good mental attitude would help get me to the top, even if my body rebelled. With each mountain I got older, but I was also stronger and more experienced, ready to take what the mountain could dish out.
ExplorersWeb.com: Was your challenge to become the first woman with MS summiteer or were you just a climber dealing with unusual health issues?
Lori: As I set foot on each of the mountains, Everest included, my goal was to be the first ME to go as far as my body would take me.
We all deal with hurdles in our lives, some physical, some financial, some emotional, but all challenges none the less. I wanted to challenge myself to live a dream, that many thought would not be possible, including me.
ExplorersWeb.com: How was Everest? Was it as you had expected it when you faced it for the first time?
Lori: To me, Everest was life altering. The moment I found myself in the shadow of its glory, I knew that there was no turning back. It drew me in and I was amazed with every step forward that I was able to take.
Yes, it was as difficult and dangerous as I had expected, but what I did not expect was the power it had over me. The power to transform my thoughts into ones so positive, that I felt I really had a shot at it. I had prepared well, but nothing prepared me for the power of that magical place.
ExplorersWeb.com: How about the other Everest climbers? What kind of people did you meet?
Lori: I had the privilege of meeting many accomplished climbers, all with a story of their own. They were eager, helpful, honest, competent climbers, all living the dream as well.
I was also honored to meet the Sherpa team that assisted us while on Everest. They are the true heroes on the mountain. Not only did they do the work to set up camps and lines for us along the way, but they were teachers in their own right, many having summited Everest multiple times before. They shared their friendship, as well as their knowledge, and were appreciated and held in high esteem.
ExplorersWeb.com:Tell us about summit day the most intense memories.
Lori: We were climbing through the clouds, fog, and snow, those final hours to the summit. Ten hours up and the weather was deteriorating quickly. I reached the summit at 8:39 a.m. and heard the urgent order from our head Sherpa, that we must get down NOW.
I borrowed a satellite phone and repeatedly tried to make a phone call to my dad, who had been with me on our first climb, 16 years earlier. Finally I heard his voice on the other end of the frozen line. "Lori? Lori?...Dad? Dad?" Our tears blurred the words, but I yelled "I made it!!!" It was a joyous moment for both of us, as I realized that I was actually standing on top of the world. My dad's fears as a father were not over though, as he said "Now we've got to get you down!".
For those ten surreal minutes on top, I could not see a thing in the face of the storm. No view at all, after dreaming of this moment for so many years. All I could do was to look inside. What I saw was a person who ten years earlier was afraid that her physical life was over, that morning I woke up with half of my body numb from multiple sclerosis. I realized that through all of this I had become brave, and no longer feared for my future.
ExplorersWeb.com: Now that youre done with the 7 Summits, what are your emotions?
Lori: Completing my goal to climb the 7 Summits, culminated on May 23, 2009, when I summited Everest. To stand on the top of the world was the most exhilarating experience of my life. It is an experience that has forever changed me.
I think on the surface, it feels very satisfying to have completed a goal that has been in my heart for so long. On the deepest level, I miss the simplicity of life while on the mountain.
Day to day life is filled with so many requirements, so many tasks we must complete, in order to keep all the plates spinning. On the mountain, my goal was to put one foot in front of the other, with a smile on my face. I know it should be that way in 'real life' as well, but the glory of Everest made that task so energizing to the soul.
ExplorersWeb.com: However, crossing the finish line - doesnt it also leave some emptiness?
Lori: I often ask myself "How do I top Everest?" I have come to the realization that some things can't or don't need to be topped.
There is sadness in some ways, when you cross that finish line after a long hard race. What had been my focus for so many years, has abruptly ended, leaving a gaping hole in my spirit. Yet it is being filled with new meaning, as I go out into the world and share my story. As a 53 yr. old woman with MS, I am trying to use my experience and teach others to believe in themselves and not be afraid to try.
ExplorersWeb.com: How is the illness now and what is your current life like?
Lori: Physically, my body is feeling strong right now with very few symptoms of my MS. At times over the past years I have experienced numbness, partial vision loss, and muscle weakness due to my MS, but for now my body is healthy. With MS, the symptoms come and go and it is always unpredictable.
I have begun to speak of my experiences in climbing the mountains of the world, as well as those in my life dealing with MS. I have started a business called EmpowermentThroughAdventure.com and am working as a professional speaker, in hopes of empowering others in their lives as well.
ExplorersWeb.com: What kind of feedback are you getting?
Lori: I am one of the lucky ones with MS, because mine is fairly stable right now. I know that many others with MS are not so fortunate. Each day I get letters and emails from people around the world with MS, who are also working to take back their power. Those are the people that inspire me every day.
I have been invited to Europe this spring, to share my story with the global MS community, and help raise awareness of this disease that affects people all around the world. I am also working with the MS Society in our country to help raise funds for much needed research.
I want to help empower others with MS, by encouraging them to climb the mountains in their own life, and to keep their dreams alive.
Climbing with Alpine Ascents, American Lori Schneider summited Everest from the south side at 8.30am, May 23rd 2009. At 52, she became the first Everest summiteer with Multiple Sclerosis.
Lori Schneider was diagnosed with multiple sclerosis (MS) in 1999, after the left side of her body became numb overnight.
According to the National MS Society, MS is a condition that attacks nerve cells in the brain, spinal cord and optic nerves. It can cause numbness, blurred vision and blindness, loss of balance, tremors, extreme fatigue, poor coordination, slurred speech, memory and concentration problems and more.
The symptoms may come and go, or be permanent. Regardless of a patients current health, knowing that MS is unpredictable and symptoms may appear or worsen at any time is a challenge to those living with MS.
MS strikes people of all ages, although most are diagnosed between the ages of 20 and 50. More than 400,000 Americans and 2.5 million people around the world have MS. Although there currently is no cure, treatments are available for MS and its symptoms.
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