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Mountain climbing in a wheelchair with Maria

Have you ever heard of a person living with cerebral palsy go mountain climbing in a wheelchair?  

Well, that is just what I did.

On 18 February this year, I joined 20 people, all with varying degrees of cerebral palsy and their teams high on the slopes of the Snowy Mountains, all with the one goal … to reach the summit of Australia’s highest peak, Mount Kosciuszko.

Several months earlier I was invited to take part in the 2017 Krazy Kosci Klimb; an amazing event, organised by Cerebral Palsy Alliance that raises funds to go towards their sports and recreation programs.   I jumped at the opportunity; I love adventure and to reach the summit was only a dream.

My team – TEAM MARIA was made up of my friends, Jennifer, Jo and Rachelle; volunteers from the NAB Bank - Michelle, Phil, Simon and Jared; our team leader, Isabelle from Cerebral Palsy Alliance, and my husband, Lindsay.

Before the climb, my team met and completed a training run at Narrabeen Lakes.  The wheelchair I used for the climb had no casters; instead it had one large wheel in the front. It was important my team members were all comfortable pushing me in this chair.  I quickly realised, I had a great team; we all enjoyed each other’s company and worked very well together. 

After hiring a wheelchair accessible van, my team mates, Jennifer and Michelle drove Lindsay and me to Jindabyne where we met the rest of the team at the Jindabyne Sports and Recreation Centre, our ‘home’ for the weekend.   That night after dinner we had a briefing and given our start time.  My start time was 8.05am.  As the start line was a 40 minute drive from Jindabyne at Charlotte Pass, we were all up early the next morning, excited about the adventure ahead.

Arriving at the starting point we felt a buzz of activity with teams preparing to start.  My team supported me into my ‘mountain climbing chair’ which they had decorated with pink streamers and pink balloons. We all wore pink caps with “Team Maria” embroidered on them.   Teams were sent on their way by an official starter, in five minute intervals.   Many teams started the climb to the sound of their nominated favourite song.  Soon my song ‘Climb Every Mountain’ was playing, the horn blew and TEAM MARIA was off.

The mountain scenery was beautiful with small pockets of snow settled in the valleys of the Snowy River.   The scenery changed many times throughout the 18 km trek; from flat, green fields to rocky slopes.  The track also changed along the way, at times rough and rocky to dirt, grates or small pebbles; making the trek quite gruelling for all of us.

All my team members took turns at pushing my wheelchair.  In areas where the hills were very steep, two members put on a harness and attached ropes to the front of my wheelchair and pulled me while another team member pushed.

Along the way were check points tents where we could stop for a breather and enjoy some refreshments before tackling the next section of the track.  Check point 4 was the last stop before we started the final ascent to the summit. 

At Check point 4 I looked towards the top of the mountain and noticed small figures moving which were people who had already reached the summit.  I thought “surely we’re not going all the way up there?”, but we did!

I was now more determined than ever to walk the final few meters to the summit. With my team mates Simon and Phil supporting me, I walked to the top where I was greeted by thunderous applauds and many people congratulating me. It was an amazing feeling to be on the highest point of Australia.  

Once the obligatory summit photos were taken, we returned to check point 4 for lunch and a rest before making our way back down to the finish line. Once again, in steep parts on our way down, my team members put on the harness, but  this time, they attached the ropes to the back of my chair and walked behind me so that my wheelchair could not ‘run away’.

We made our way past Check point 3 and onto check point 2.  When we left check point 2 our progress was again reported to Base Camp.  I did not know at the time, but this was a signal for my husband Lindsay (who did not participate in the trek; instead he acted as my ‘cheer’ squad at the start and finish line) to start walking up the track to meet me.   Soon after leaving check point 1, in the distance I saw two small figures coming towards us. As we got closer I realised it was Lindsay and Cerebral Palsy Alliance’s exercise physiologist Teigan Butchers coming towards us. After such an exhausting day, I was so excited to see my husband and have him join Team Maria cross the finish line.

Like I did on the Summit, I insisted on leaving my wheelchair to walk across the finish line. By this time, I was very emotional – I couldn’t quite believe we had completed the trek. Once again my team mates supported me, and together we finished the event in just under 6 hours.

On Saturday night we all celebrated our achievements with a dinner, medal presentation and speeches followed by a disco.

Despite being born with cerebral Palsy, I have been to many places around the world and seen many sights but nothing is more spectacular then the beauty of Australia.

Taking part in the Krazy Kosci Klimb has re-affirmed my belief that if you put your mind to it,   anything is possible.

Thank you to my team and everyone involved in this amazing event.  My special thanks to one of the event founders, teenager, Hannah for living her dream and allowing it to be shared by others.