We are two girls with Multiple Sclerosis, who set out to conquer eight physical challenges around the world to raise funds and awareness for eight charities. Who knew living with MS would prove to be the least of our physical challenges? (Almost).
Let's start at the beginning.
It’s March 31st, 2012, and we are mistakenly trying to strap our shin pads to our elbows, while
teammates tie up our hockey skates. Twenty four hours later, we’ve completed three full games of hockey for the Help Fill A Dream Foundation, our bodies bruised and our inspiration soaring. Our team raises $1,200 for children with life-threatening illnesses.
Fast forward 6 months and Kara is leaving the protective guidance of her father’s arms on her
handlebars and pedalling down the streets from her childhood; at 25, she has learned how to ride a bike (ish). With three blocks and four minor falls under her belt, we begin the 12 kilometre bike tour for the MS Society of Canada. The Kamloops River Run presents us with vehicle and pedestrian traffic, a route along a river, mountains, and cliffs. Kara only falls 5 times, triumphantly crosses the finish line with hundreds of other riders that all contributed to raising $33,000 for the MS Society (of which we raised more than $1,000 towards).
A few days later, the phone rings. It’s Kara’s grandmother calling to see if we’ve heard about the heavy rains in China, which have washed out part of The Great Wall. The fact that there was also an earthquake there almost seems minor…
Two short weeks allow us time to heal scraped knees and our next trek to be re-routed before
landing in Beijing. Culture shocked but determined, we embark upon a 50km trek up the Great Wall of China; setting out to climb with 16 other people, each supporting a charity, and in the coming days, each other. Every step brings us closer to our donation goal for the Juvenile Diabetes Foundation of Canada (JDRF). On day 6, we climb the broken stairs in blazing sunshine, one of us throwing up our breakfast of congee and toast along the way. Our vertical ascent takes 6 hours and yet only covers 6 kilometers. Several days, watchtowers, and thousands of steps later, we cross the finish line of our trek, and JDRF receives a cheque for $5,000.
Over our celebratory dinner with the tour group, news arrives of riots in Tunisia. The U.S
embassy has ordered all non-essential diplomatic staff and families out of Sudan and Tunisia; the embassy has been attacked, leaving dozens wounded and at least 2 dead. We can no longer do the 8-day desert trek from Tunisia.
We are advised by our guide as we leave the tour group to wear long sleeves and pants through
the airport; we are covered in bug bites which could be mistaken as illness and cause us to be
quarantined in the Beijing airport. We nervously get through customs, but Kara develops huge red welts on the flight to Moscow. Our layover does not improve her condition, and a Russian-only speaking Doogie Howser attempts to give her an unidentified injection at the First Aid office. Denying his doctoral advances, we find a corner and curl up on the cool tiled floor.
Itchy and exhausted, we find little comfort at the Gatwick Airport in London, where all of my
luggage has been waylaid and likely somewhere in Russia. In trekking shorts and hiking boots, we stagger through the pouring London rains to the tube and into Brixton where we will be staying for the next week.
Counting the stops until we are to disembark the train, we discover a newspaper reading
“TRAGEDY AT AIRFIELD”. After 44 years without incident, an experienced jumper has died at the airfield we are to skydive at in four days. Winds picked up as he was 50ft from the ground, and he collided with another parachuter, who was left paralyzed.
It is September 27, 2012, and my 25th birthday. We want to breathe the air at ten thousand feet
for those who cough at ground level, and we want to do this with our cameraman Steve. He is 26 years old, had a liver transplant at age 11, and has been living with Cystic Fibrosis since birth. We leap out headfirst at 11,800ft, and tumble through the blue skies of England, raising $1,341GBP for the Cystic Fibrosis Trust.
With our feet on solid ground, we decide to do a modified “National Three Peak Challenge” in
place of the original desert trek; we will climb the three highest mountains in the UK in three days for the Simon Keith Foundation, raising funds for organ transplants and donors. We will start with Ben Nevis in Scotland the very next day. We drive from London to Scotland, settle into a small hostel at the base of the mountain, and begin our trek to the top, which sits 4409ft above us. Less than twenty minutes into the climb, Steve becomes congested and is unable to continue on. His body wracked by coughing, he has to turn back. We divvy up the 40lbs of camera equipment and climb for 8 hours in what we soon discover is the hardest day of our lives. As weather closes in and visibility turns to nil, we climb because we know we must. Rain hammers us from all sides, soaking our clothing to the skin. The path becomes a river, and we find ourselves carrying everything above our heads as we wade through unexpected waterfalls. As the air thins and our soaked clothes freeze, we cannot film our grueling journey. At the top, where four people died that summer from lack of visibility at the edge of the cliffs, we hardly take the time to stop. With nothing to see but fog and snow, we almost run back down the mountain (slipping and falling repeatedly).
The warmth of the car awaits us at the bottom in the pouring rain, but with a flat tire. It has
been a long day. Friends who are climbing the next peak are currently trapped at the top of Scafell Pike due to extreme weather. We will not be completing the other two peaks.
North American soil does not grant us a reprieve; we have been training for the New York City
Marathon for six months. After bruises from ice hockey, scrapes from cycling, and sore muscles from climbing, we always make a point to go for a run.
And then Hurricane Sandy hit. “Superstorm Sandy” proves to be the second costliest hurricane
in United States history. The New York City Marathon is cancelled. We have raised $3,000 for the Michael J Fox Foundation for Parkinson’s Research, but we will not cross the finish line.
We try to re-group in Canada. We are still scheduled to complete a 10-day jungle trek in Costa
Rica through the Monte Verde Cloud Forest for Livestrong. An earthquake hits and we can go no further.
Funds depleted, energy drained, and Mother Nature’s unexpected fury knowing no bounds, The FInity Project fell silent.