The following post is by Erin Sharoni, one of Fila’s Brand Ambassadors. Erin is the co-host of CNBC Sports Biz with Darren Rovell, which airs Fridays at 7:00 PM ET on NBC Sports Network, and a host of SB Nation’s online sports network, which airs on www.youtube.com/sbnation.
Wendy Booker is no stranger to being on top.
She has summited six of the world’s seven highest peaks. She has twice attempted to summit Everest, reaching an elevation of 23,000 feet. She has competed in 150 bike rides, triathlons and marathons.
Wendy Booker has done many times over what most humans can only hope to achieve once in their lifetime, and she has done it all with while living with Multiple Sclerosis.
Wendy is not an athlete by nature. Twelve years ago, after first being diagnosed with MS, she decided to run the Boston Marathon. She wanted to see how hard she could push herself, how hard she could fight back, as she puts it, “before the wheelchair.”
“26.2 miles was the distance of a lifetime for me,” Wendy says, “but it really opened me up to what I’m doing now.”
She continued to push herself, taking on the kinds of physical challenges that her doctors initially warned her to avoid, given her diagnosis. In her late 40s, Wendy went from being an interior designer and casual runner, raising three children in Massachusetts, to a woman living with MS who learned how to become a global mountain climber. In 2004 at the age of 49, Wendy Booker took on one of the toughest mountains in the world, and became the first person with MS to stand atop the peak of Denali in Alaska (North America’s highest mountain).
What inspired her to take on the even greater contest of summiting the world’s Seven Summits, a task that many elite, able-bodied athletes fail to ever complete? Wendy realized that the Seven Summits were a metaphor for the challenge she faced in MS. “Multiple Sclerosis is a global challenge; it doesn’t exist only here in Massachusetts, specific to me,” she says. To date, Wendy has summited six of the seven peaks, and is the first person with MS to have done so.
Of course, being “on top” doesn’t necessarily mean you always reach the peak. Upon her first two attempts at summiting Everest, Wendy failed to complete the ascent. She reached an impressive elevation of 23,000 feet at the base of the Lhotse Face, but ultimately was forced to turn back. According to Wendy, it was her most humbling moment, because it was the first time that her disease truly prevented her from achieving her goal.
She points out that failure is an important part of the journey. “It teaches you humility, and as my father used to tell me: ‘It’s not what happens to you but how you react to it.’ Failing to reach your goal is okay, but it doesn’t mean you stop. You just need to change how you get there.”
To that end, Wendy decided, if she couldn’t reach the “top of the world” by summiting Everest, she’d head to the literal top of the world—the North Pole. She began her Polar Trilogy (North Pole, South Pole and Greenland) in the spring of 2011, with her journey to the North Pole. In January 2012, on the 100th anniversary of its discovery, Wendy journeyed to the South Pole, in commemoration of the bold explorers who went forth into the unknown in search of their goals all those years ago. Greenland is yet to come.
“I learned to appreciate and respect what true athletes go through, in terms of training and preparation of mindset,“ Wendy says. “It’s not all a walk in the park. You really get down and dirty. On a mountain like Denali in Alaska, you’re up there for a month with no shower, no water, no nothing. I love that.”
What started twelve years ago as a personal mission to prove to herself, her doctors, her family, even to her body—that she could live life to the fullest with this disease, has become something far greater. Wendy’s mission, like the physical goals she sets for herself, is truly global. Her wish now is to educate, motivate and inspire anyone facing a challenge of any scale.
“If I can do it, you can do it,” Wendy insists.
Self-discovery, serendipity, and stubbornness: These are what Wendy calls her 3-S’. “Everybody has them,” she says. Wendy sees MS as a fortuitous accident –she was only offered the chance to climb Denali when she met a man with MS looking to assemble a group of people living with MS to be the first to ascend the mountain. Wendy credits her parents with inspiring this mindset. Her father was a POW under the Japanese in WWII; her mother will turn 91 this year. Throughout her life, she says she never heard either one of them complain. “Their attitude was always, ‘step up to the plate,’ stay positive, laugh, be happy,” she says. Wendy also gives a great amount of credit to the drug therapies that are now available for MS, and tries to stress the importance of starting and adhering to a therapy to all those living with the disease, as often as she can.
“Many of the choices we make in life are based on perception. If I can change the perception that MS means a wheelchair or a disability or that a challenge means you have to give up on things…that’s what I really want to do,” Wendy states.
“It’s been 12 years, and that wheelchair isn’t even on my mind.”
To learn more about Wendy’s efforts, and to follow her on her incredible journeys, visit: www.wendybooker.com