Then There Were Four

 

In 1914 Ernest Shackleton posted a notice “Looking for willing and able bodied men to go on a perilous journey from which they may never return” Over a 1000 applied.

  

In 2002 I answered a similar notice. I was one of a handful of ‘applicants’ and so began my amazing journey to climb the highest mountain on each of the seven continents. I wasn’t a climber. I wasn’t an adventurer. I had never been higher than a few gentle mountains that make up part of the White Mountains of New Hampshire. I went with my father, I think I was ten. 
But the call to attempt to go on a perilous journey of which I knew nothing but wanted to learn was too great and so with no experience in 2002 I went to Alaska to climb Denali. I did return but I was humbled. And thus began my new life….. 

My journey was further complicated by the fact that unlike Shackleton’s able-bodied men, in 1998 I had been diagnosed with MS but that above all else was my very personal reason for attempting this mission. I wanted to see if I could climb with and for MS. 

Mountaineering is unlike any other sport. It is a very solitary sport and a team effort both at once. The challenge is met by bringing together a clear, responsible decision as to what is the smart thing to do. The ego must be totally eliminated and the glory or self-adulation to reach the summit must be weighed by the total cost of what it takes to get there. As a friend so eloquently put it, “This is not a missed shot in a tennis game, there are no do overs. The ramifications of a single decision are enormous and the responsibility lies totally on and within the individual climber.” A poor decision not only affects the individual climber but also puts great risk on the people who must now give their own lives in order to save that person. A summit will only be recalled or glorified for a finite period of time. A poor decision on the way to that summit will carry a lifetime of regrets or take that life altogether. 

It is all about individual choice. Reaching one’s personal boundary and recognizing that we have a responsibility to ourselves, those we care about, the people we are climbing with and to our personal mission. The hardest choice I have had to face in the 12 years I have been living with MS was to turn back from a summit attempt on Everest… twice. I have had to recognize that on Everest I reached my boundary- sustained life above 17,000 feet, where the air is painfully thin and took my body to a place where it couldn’t function with Multiple Sclerosis. My MS could not tolerate the lack of oxygen to the brain and the enormous daily temperature fluctuations on the mountain. Everyday while others on my team grew stronger I was getting weaker. I noticed new symptoms I had not had before as well as a severe increase of those I have lived with for years. 

Sir Ernest Shackleton’s perilous adventure to Antarctica could have ended very differently then it did. Although the expedition failed because he did not reach the south pole, Shackleton triumphed over enormous odds to bring all 28 men safely home. 

My mission has been to educate, motivate and encourage those facing MS that they too have the ability to take an amazing journey with their disease. They have the personal responsibility to get on a medication to make themselves the best they can possibly be to face the challenges of the mountain ahead. Just like an individual climber facing insurmountable odds, discomfort, fear, trepidations and perseverance, we with MS face this mountain every day. But only within ourselves do we hold the individual decision to push back, reach and recognize our limitations, challenge our hearts, minds and spirit and live a fulfilling life with and for MS. It is not an easy mission but I personally know it is fate that brought us here. Our spirit that will guide us through. And the rewards are like no other. 

Like Sir Ernest Shackleton my mission ended very differently than I had expected. But I did not fail. I have attempted Everest twice. I took MS to the highest it would allow me to go. As the medical staff at base camp have documented, the bar has been set. I am a mountaineer, an adventurer, an explorer. And I’m not done yet. 

Wendy 

Safely back at Everest Base Camp 

Climb On! 

  

  

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18 Responses to “Then There Were Four”


  1. 1 Carol Figurido April 24, 2010 at 3:41 pm

    My dear Wendy,

    You are my hero.

    I have been conversing with two friends, both of whom have MS, and they have both told me several times how you have inspired them in so many ways. You are their strength and inspiration (and mine too, I might add). You have shown them that every day is a journey – no matter where that they are. Because of you, they know there is hope; and with perserverance, they, too, can live their life to the fullest.

    You have climbed to your absolute best.

    We love you and can’t wait for you to come home.

    PC (and friends)

  2. 2 Jen April 24, 2010 at 5:58 pm

    No matter what, you are one of my closest friends and I love you. My blessings, Jen

  3. 3 Jen April 24, 2010 at 6:00 pm

    Oh yeah, I forgot to write about how I am incredibly proud of you. You are an inspiration to so many, more than you’ll ever know.

    • 4 Shawn Ames April 30, 2010 at 3:49 am

      Are we on new journey, or is it just a change in direction?
      You are alive and feeling better! Can’t wait to see you!

      Shawn

  4. 5 David April 24, 2010 at 8:59 pm

    Wendy, You are a hero! By pushing your mortal self to a limit that few people will ever experience, you have to come a place in life not many are fortunate to face. To come to self realizations of YOU, your place with fellow man, the opportunities your present choices will open…Life lessons learned on this single trip amount to more than the common man will ever learn in a LIFETIME!!

    At these times it’s always difficult to see the roses of the day and tomorrow, but time will do that for you…if you live the wisdom your choices gift you with.

    Again, your a hero, not so much for all the things commonly associated with the Gods, but because you humanly did those things gods dream of.

    Continued good luck in all your endeavours.

  5. 6 Bob Theisen April 25, 2010 at 12:19 am

    Wendy

    I am so proud to be able to call you my friend. This has been a great journey for you. It has not ended, you are just going to explore other paths of adventure.

    I hope to touch base with you in the future.

    Take Care, Bob

  6. 7 Laura Kimball April 26, 2010 at 12:49 pm

    I am proud to be on your team and proud of your decisions! You have inspired more people than you will ever know! You are a ROCK STAR!! Enjoy your continued journey-wherever it may lead!

  7. 8 cathy sullivan April 26, 2010 at 12:56 pm

    Well my friend….. I’m looking forward as always to the next wave of adventures and all the inspiration you will share, not only with me, but others. there is so much that you will be able to share from your ever changing vantage point.
    lets keep pressing on to our bigger goals, of helping others,realize there personal potentials.

  8. 9 Tom Waterfall April 26, 2010 at 7:05 pm

    Sorry to read that you are having to forego your attempt, takes alot of courage to know when to turn around. Many people wouldn’t make the decision that you have made and end up paying for that, either themselves or others in their climbing party. How many bodies are on mountains because the ego was greater than the body.

  9. 10 Maren Aberle April 27, 2010 at 2:09 am

    You are strong and smart–knowing when to push and when to hold back. Though that is difficult for those of us with perhaps willful personalities–it is to be admired. Thank you for your inspiration.

  10. 11 Josh Jones April 27, 2010 at 3:20 am

    Dear Wendy,
    My friend, my tentmate, an inspiration to all who have been blessed with your kind words and loving smile I am proud of YOU!! From your words and actions you have laid a fondation for so many people to take the hard road in life and thus gain the greatest reward, belief in themselves inspite of any hardship. This journey has taken you all over this earth and given you so much in return, all of which you share with anyone who passes by. I am humbled and honored to have had a chance to spend some of my time with you in some of those places. You have helped me to believe in myself and see more of what life is truely about. It’s about the memories and not the accomplishments. Those moments in time that bring a smile to your face or a the rememberance of a hard fought lesson that has helped you to be better at life. You my friend return home as a hero!!!! Tonight I will say a prayer and ask for your safe return to your family and the safe journey of your team left behind. May you all rest your heads peacefully tonight. With great love and affection!
    Josh
    P.S. The first round of Gummy Bears is on me!! 🙂

  11. 12 Susan Wellborn April 29, 2010 at 1:41 pm

    Dear Wendy,
    I’ve been following your treks since I heard you speak in Houston a few yrs. back. I can imagine how disappointing it must be to not be healthy when you are there at base camp and want so badly to climb. You made the right decision, though, to not jeopardize your life or others in pursuit of the summit.Please know that despite not summiting Everest(or maybe even more because you tried and did not summit) you provide inspiration to others living with MS to keep on going..with work, family, travel,physical workouts etc. I know you motivate me to live life to the fullest albeit with MS.To face the fears and take on a challenge despite having MS. Can’t wait to hear what you have planned next..maybe some adventure in a warmer climate? Best of luck and safe travel!

  12. 13 Madge Rindos April 30, 2010 at 12:34 am

    Wendy,

    I just found out that your back at Everest, because I’m still on the West Coast. Know that you will be in my prayers daily and that I am so-o-o proud of you and your strength and determination. Be strong..believe..and be happy!! See you back in Manchester soon I hope! Love ya!!

    Madge

  13. 14 Sharon Cohrs May 1, 2010 at 1:36 am

    Dearest Wendy

    We have never met and I live along way from you. (I’m in Australia) but I have followed you on your amazing journey and feel you need to know how much your journey has reached others around the world.

    Everything you do is an achievement and what you have done to help MS sufferers. The inspiration and hope you give to others is admirable.

    I too have a passion and love for mountaineering and I totally understand the fine line of making the right decision.

    Having gone through Breast Cancer in 2007 I can relate to you on every level from the struggles to the determination in rising above it all. It is the heroes like yourself Wendy that drive me to be a better person and raise awareness for the disease that effects so many.

    I wish you a safe journey home and I have no doubt you will continue to “Climb on”

    Sharon Cohrs

  14. 15 Maida Broudo May 2, 2010 at 11:10 am

    Dear Gwendolyn,
    We were in Paris when this all unraveled for you, and it must have been around the 23rd……which is when Theodore Roosevelt gave this address in Paris at the Sorbonne! I can think of nothing better to say that to offer this! You are my hero and I am so happy to have my girlfriend home safe and sound……!

    “It is not the critic who counts: not the man who points out how the strong man stumbles or where the doer of deeds could have done better. The credit belongs to the man who is actually in the arena, whose face is marred by dust and sweat and blood, who strives valiantly, who errs and comes up short again and again, because there is no effort without error or shortcoming, but who knows the great enthusiasms, the great devotions, who spends himself for a worthy cause; who, at the best, knows, in the end, the triumph of high achievement, and who, at the worst, if he fails, at least he fails while daring greatly, so that his place shall never be with those cold and timid souls who knew neither victory nor defeat.”

    “Citizenship in a Republic,”
    Speech at the Sorbonne, Paris, April 23, 1910

  15. 16 Wendy Drake May 4, 2010 at 10:49 pm

    Hey Wen! Good to see you on the mountain. All the very best for a wonderful experience. We’ll toast to you at Happy Hour Friday night.
    xxxooo,
    Wen

  16. 17 ALAN WINSTON May 10, 2010 at 6:56 pm

    Wendy some day you will make it to the top. You and Ken Green(the golfer) are my heros. I will someday break 80 again even having suffering from MS, you will climb to the top and Ken will be back on the Champions tour with one leg. Our goals will be reached but there is no gain without pain. We must never give up, for if we do we are defeated. If we keep trying we are not losers, but winners in life. Good luck and I hope to see you in Sarasota Florida in a Friends Of Hope meeting this year.

  17. 18 Craig John May 12, 2010 at 8:13 pm

    Hey you…Another tough one….but how you have lived!! It is so hard up there for anyone without the challanges you face. How well you have done!!! To go back a second time and live through it all again and struggle again with all the uncertainty…you are an inspiration beyond what you know…you have done very well….my congratulations to you. Lets go rock climbing. All the best, CJ


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About Wendy Booker

In June of 1998, this 55 year old mother of three was diagnosed with relapsing-remitting MS after experiencing balance problems, blurred vision and numbness on her left side. When first diagnosed, Wendy was devastated. But it took very little time for her to transform anguish into inspiration. She immediately turned her hobby of casual running into a continuous pursuit and has now completed nine marathons.

Mountain climbing became the next conquest. Wendy learned about a team of mountain climbers with Multiple Sclerosis who were attempting to climb Mt. McKinley (Denali) in Alaska. With no previous climbing experience, she dedicated a year to hard training and set off with them in 2002. Although weather conditions prohibited the team from completing, Wendy attempted the summit again in 2004 on her own and she succeeded!

The feeling of accomplishment she experienced propelled her next aspiration: to climb the highest mountain on each continent. Just five years later, Wendy Booker has successfully reached the top of six of The Seven Summits – Mt. Kilimanjaro, Mt. McKinley, Mt. Elbrus, Mt. Aconcagua, Mt. Vinson Massif and Mt. Kosciuszko. Mt. Everest, the highest mountain on earth, still awaits for 2010.


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