This year will mark 15 years since one of my closest friends, Linda Bloom, was diagnosed with MS. Now, 15 years later, she's healthy, vibrant, and symptom-free thanks to the important work of Overcoming MS, whose mission to raise awareness about the OMS 7-Step Recovery Program has helped thousands of people around the world with MS live better and healthier lives.
Taking on a momentous challenge
To support the important work Overcoming MS is doing, and to celebrate Linda’s health and drive to help others with MS get healthier, I traveled from New York to England to embark on the 24 Peak Challenge to help raise much-needed funds for Overcoming MS.
We were told the trek would be difficult – summiting 24 peaks in England’s Lake District, all over 2,400 feet with a target trekking time of 24 hours, including scaling the highest point in England – Scafell Pike!
The days would be long and the trekking would be tough. Twenty four of us arrived in Ambleside on the eve of October 6 – one for each peak – cheered on by Linda, whose presence was the warmth of a fire on a chilly northern England’s night. In pitch black the next morning, we made our way to the foot of the first peak, guided by four expert mountaineers.
Battling the elements
There was a nervous energy in the air amidst the group – no one knew what to really expect – a fact that was further ingrained when the driving rains and 40 mph winds began to barrage our column of climbers.
With every step forward and upward, we became open targets for the elements. Perhaps I should have read more closely when we were warned to bring waterproof trousers – mine were not – so within the first hour I was totally drenched, shivering, and wondering if there was an express lane to a warm bath.
But when I looked around me, I saw the committed, friendly faces of my fellow hikers, the people who had left their kids and warm weekend beds behind to do something important in support of a cause they believe in. Being in this company of people was more powerful than any dram of whisky on a cold winter’s night.
After 5 hours and 2 peaks scaled, and well off our pace because of the horrendous weather, the guides informed us that it would be physically impossible to complete the day’s target.
A veritable family
At that point, some decided to carry on and scale a few more peaks – including Scafell Pike – and others, myself included, had made the choice that the 3+ hour steep descent from the hills was more than enough adventure.
When we were all back together that evening, sharing a meal and swapping tales of steep ascents and perilous slips on the wet rocks.
We may have been exhausted, and some of us bruised and battered, but we were all a family who had grown closer together, supported each other through the grim weather, and encouraged one another to take another step forward.
This camaraderie gave me an inkling of stories people in the OMS community have shared with me – the support they give each other is like a powerful medicine, and it helps them stay on the course to better health.
On day 2, with more rain in the forecast, and our waterlogged gear not even close to dry, some decided to undertake the mammoth challenge of tackling 15 peaks in 12 hours, including OMS CEO, Gary McMahon.
Others elected a shorter yet still challenging 8-hour trek (no leisurely stroll by any stretch of the imagination). And still others, with my hand raised for this one, chose to forgo the threat of rain and hiking in wet kit to stay at lake-level.
Nature's own reward
We were all rewarded. Those who clambered and scrambled their way up the peaks were surprised by Mother Nature’s generosity – a relatively dry day with dramatic views of the verdant valleys below – making them all but forget the muscle aches and soreness that comes with hiking 30 km in one day!
We who stayed below ambled the rolling green meadows and footpaths of the area for hours, passing sheep, waterfalls, gardens, more sheep, quaint country towns, and even more sheep!
A common purpose
When everyone came together at the finish line, receiving a personal warm embrace from Linda, we didn’t feel like separate groups who were buffeted by the elements all weekend, or who challenged ourselves to find the strength to scale just one more peak.
We were a team, a unit, a band of people thrown together in an English country village to undertake a challenge our friends and family considered insane.
We may have started the OMS 24 Peak Challenge to prove something to ourselves, or to just inhale the crisp air outside of the congested cities we live in.
But we ended it as people who in two days had found a common purpose, made new friendships, and supported each other through the arduous challenges that nature had in store for us.
I may not miss the driving rains and winds of our first day’s trek, but I miss my fellow climbers already. See all the photo evidence of the challenge by scrolling through the album below:
Alex Twersky OMS Marketing & Communications Manager