The Devil You Know
A day after what will go down in history as the ‘Mt Somers debacle’ (read about that great decision here), I had the absolute pleasure of going on a multi-day hike in to the ‘Nina Valley’, and over the ‘Devil Skin Saddle’ in the Lewis Pass with Nick Allen. For those of you who don’t know Nick, i’ll take a wild guess and assume that’s about ninety-five percent of you, he’s a pretty inspirational guy. Nick has been hiking, climbing and mountaineering most of his life. He has an absolute wealth of knowledge, some incredible experiences, and some outrageous stories. Nick also has Primary Progressive Multiple Sclerosis (Learn more about MS here).
Nick was diagnosed with Primary Progressive MS, at 25 years old. Primary progressive MS is the most aggressive form of MS. Around 15 percent of people with MS are diagnosed with primary progressive. What defines it as ‘aggressive’, is the general lack of remission of symptoms after the onset. Meaning that neurological function continually degrades.
Nick suffered from unexplained extreme fatigue at the age of 21, days quickly turned in to years and eventually Nick became unable to walk, he gave up hope of being to able to enjoy the outdoors again. At 25 Nick was given his diagnosis, and told he would need the use of a mobility scooter to live a normal life, quite a hard pill to swallow, especially for someone who has grown up in the outdoors.
Through unreal amounts of hard work and drive, a complete change of diet, and medication, Nick was able to slowly get back to doing what he loves, being in the outdoors. In fact, he took it ten steps further, eventually starting his own charity and heading to the Himalayas. He attempted to summit not one, but two 6000m (18,000ft) peaks. Nick started Mastering mountains (check it out here) in 2016. The aim of the charity is to help people affected by MS overcome obstacles to get them back in to the outdoors. See what I mean, hollywood blockbuster-level inspirational.
Over the three days our hike covered roughly 50km,with some pretty serious elevation gains, not bad for a guy who was told he may never walk again. The hike itself was beautiful, with fantastic views and amazing variation of terrain, which is pretty typical of New Zealand. But these aren’t the things that I will remember, or that impacted me over these three days. What will really stay with me, was Nicks honesty about his everyday life and how he is affected by MS.
Lets backtrack for a second here. You may recall me talking about Nicks Heroic effort of attempting two (and succeeding at one) peaks over 6000m (18,000ft), in the Himalayas. Nick trained extremely hard for this, working in the gym to improve his balance, hiking with an altitude mask and climbing as much as he could around the Mt Aspiring National Park area. Probably in the best shape of his life since being diagnosed with MS, he set off to the Himalayas for two months.
What Nick didn’t expect was how much being at high altitude for two months would affect him, or more specifically how it would affect his MS. Upon his return Nick experienced a pretty serious relapse in his condition. His balance and co-ordination was affected, he began experiencing bladder control issues, and he again became extremely fatigued. Some of these symptoms he has been able to alleviate through training and medication. Others will be with him for the rest of his life. Along with the physical affects Nick also experienced a loneliness that that can only be experienced by someone that has achieved his life long goals, and now must return to everyday life.
Nick didn’t let any of this deter him, armed with his ever-positive attitude and some pretty serious drive, he continues to hike. He sets aside time in his extremely busy calendar, on these days he will hike no matter what. Being in the outdoors is therapy for Nick, it takes him away from everyday life, and gets him back to what he loves. In the bush life is simple, and although he may have to be more mindful while hiking, he is still extremley fit and capable.
Nick is a great example of what people with MS are capable of. He personifies determination, and boasts one of the most positive attitudes I have ever seen. Nick does not suffer from MS, he lives with it. Although his daily routine is heavily affected and influenced by MS, he does not let it control him. Nick still strives to live as normal of a life as possible, and refuses to let his diagnosis define him.
What will stay with me the most from meeting Nick and spending 3 days one on one with him, isn’t that he had MS, and overcame a lot of obstacles to achieve his dream. It was the realisation that MS doesn’t define a person, and forming opinions based upon what you think people are capable of when you hear the term MS, can lead to discrimination. The aim of this project is to shine a positive light on MS, to show that being diagnosed with MS isn’t the end of your dreams, and to educate people about what it means to have MS. If Nicks example doesn’t get that message across, i’m not sure what will.
Remember to DONATE to the ‘kiss Goodbye To MS’ campaign, helping make the lives of people like Nick who are affected by MS extraordinary.