A different-than-expected ending is not necessarily a failure.
After reaching the top of Alaska’s Mt. McKinley in 2004, Wendy Booker set out to become the first person with multiple sclerosis (MS) to conquer The Seven Summits, and within four years managed to make it to the top of six — Kilimanjaro, Denali, Mt. Elbrus, Mt. Aconcagua, Mt. Vinson Massif, and Mt. Kosciuszko.
The mountaineer, adventurer, and explorer didn’t throw herself a pity party when her second attempt to climb Mt. Everest ended differently than she hoped. The 55 year-old mother of three sees only the positive in her latest adventure.
“My mission ended very differently than I had expected, but I did not fail. I have attempted Everest twice. I took multiple sclerosis to the highest it would allow me to go. I am not planning to return to Everest at this time. I am ready to take on my next mission.”
That next mission happens to be a journey to the North Pole. She hopes that the extreme endurance sport will highlight how people with MS need to dig in for the long haul and show that “we can endure and live a very long and interesting life despite the diagnosis.”
When I first began following Wendy’s activities, I was impressed. She is, after all, an unlikely candidate for such adventures. Then I began to feel strangely intimidated.
As a person living with MS, I cannot imagine surviving the rigorous training and physical exertion she endures. But I’m not Wendy. I never had the urge to climb a mountain before diagnosis, and I certainly have no desire to do so now. More importantly, I needed to remind myself not to make such comparisons.
MS is a highly variable disease, one that manifests itself in an endless array of symptoms. Some people are able to continue a very active lifestyle while others have more challenging symptoms, or a more progressive form of the disease.
I didn’t want people with MS, or any chronic illness for that matter, to read Wendy’s story and feel inadequate. We can’t all run marathons or climb mountains. So I asked Wendy if she worried about setting impossible expectations for other people with MS.
Next: What’s Your Mountain?
“I have always used the mountains as a metaphor for what life with MS is really like,” she said. “We can’t always get to the top… we have to try harder and dig deeper. I’m not asking people with MS to climb a mountain (although I have always said I would love the company), but I am telling them that they have their “mountain.” Maybe your mountain is learning a foreign language or getting a college degree. The mountain can be any challenge you thought you could no longer achieve once you received an MS diagnosis. I say why let the MS stop you? Take on that mountain and go as high as you want. Not only did you do it, you did it with MS! You are already a winner just by virtue of making the attempt!”
I like the idea of different endings rather than failures. Very few things in my life have actually turned out the way I envisioned, but most of them have turned out well. Some have turned out even better than I dared hope.
There is no denying that MS has profoundly impacted my life due to physical limitations. MS has also lead me to explore new avenues that I otherwise might have ignored, enriching my life beyond what was. Different endings, not failures.
Wendy is on a never-ending mission to raise awareness of MS on a global scale. You can read more about her work as a motivational speaker and educator in Care2′s Trailblazers for Good: Wendy Booker, Mountain Climber with MS: “I’m Not Done Yet.”
Here’s to “different endings!”
Writer Ann Pietrangelo embraces the concept of personal responsibility for health and wellness. As a person living with multiple sclerosis, she combines a healthy lifestyle and education with modern medicine, and seeks to provide information and support to others. She is a regular contributor to Care2 Causes. Follow on Twitter @AnnPietrangelo
Photos courtesy of Wendy Booker