Climbing each of the Seven Summits—the highest mountains of each of the seven continents (yes, even Antarctica)—is an incredible feat for anyone to accomplish. It’s so challenging that only around 416 people have actually pulled it off. Lori Schneider is one of those people.
Schneider completed her final summit—Mount Everest—on May 5, 2009. Perhaps the only thing as impressive as this peak—which stretches five and a half miles above sea level—is Schneider herself. In 1999, just a decade prior to completing her Seven Summit goal, Schneider was diagnosed with multiple sclerosis, or MS.
“At that point, my MS was rapidly progressing. One doctor told me that I could be in a wheelchair within a year’s time,” says Schneider. “But I was determined not to let that diagnosis stop me from living a full life."
Multiple sclerosis is a progressive disorder in which the immune system mistakenly attacks the central nervous system, meaning the brain, spinal cord, and optic nerves. People with MS may sustain damage to their CNS that can cause difficulty walking, numbness or tingling in the arms or legs, and fatigue.
Despite experiencing these debilitating symptoms of MS, Schneider pushed on. She had long been in active climber and was already training to climb the highest peak in South America, Aconcagua. She decided to go forward with the planned hike, stating that it was her only hope for coming to terms with the disease. Not only did she complete it, but 10 years later, she became the first person with MS to successfully climb Mount Everest—and complete the Seven Summit challenge.
In her journal from the Mount Everest expedition, Schneider wrote: “The incredibly steep [incline] and thin air causes us to take one step, then seven breaths. One step, then seven breaths.”
“I truly believe in order for us to cope, we have to take things one small step at a time and be patient with ourselves,” says Schneider. “Climbing mountains is a slow process. Getting beyond a diagnosis of something like multiple sclerosis is a slow process.”
“Anything can come and throw you off course, so don’t define yourself by what you can’t do,” says Schneider. “Define yourself by what you want to do, and keep moving forward.”