One of the most crucial components to battling a chronic illness is a strong support system. For Lori Schneider, who lives with multiple sclerosis (MS), the heart of her support system was her father, Neal.
“I have a really incredible dad,” says Lori. “He has been my friend and my advocate my whole life, and we’ve had some incredible adventures together. My dad’s the reason this whole story ever happened.”
Lori and her father’s story is not your average story. After being diagnosed with MS, Lori went on to climb each of the Seven Summits—the highest peaks on each continent. Just over 400 people have accomplished this feat since it started being recorded in 1985, and she was the first person with MS to do it.
“Multiple sclerosis—when she found out she had it—to her, it meant more strength,” says Neal. “She took it head on, and she conquered it. She really did.”
MS is a chronic disease in which the immune system attacks the central nervous system (which includes the spinal cord, brain, and optic nerves), according to the National MS Society. The resulting inflammation causes MS symptoms like fatigue, numbness or weakness in the arms and legs, vision problems, and walking difficulties.
Lori’s incredible feat of completing the Seven Summits with MS can be traced back to her father. She recalls, “When I was in high school, he said, ‘Someday I want to go to Africa and climb Mount Kilimanjaro,’ and I said, ‘Someday I’m gonna go with you.’” Sure enough, on June 7, 1993, the father-daughter duo completed the Mount Kilimanjaro climb—before her MS diagnosis.
The diagnosis in 1999 could have put a stop to her mountain-climbing dreams. “When I was diagnosed with MS, I didn’t feel okay,” she recalls. “I felt anything but okay. I was crumbling.”
But her father says it best: “When she sets her mind to something, it’s gonna be done. Period.”
Sure enough, Lori continued training for their second climb—Mount Aconcagua in South America—after the diagnosis, believing it was her “one shot left at a physical life” before MS took everything away from her.
Her father was the only person who knew she had been diagnosed with MS at the time. She wanted to prove to herself that she could do it, without anyone telling her she shouldn’t. Not only could she climb Aconcagua, but she successfully went on to climb all Seven Summits, including Mount Everest.
“Neither one of us want to have any regrets when this life is over,” says Lori. “We’ve said all the things we need to say and we’ve been there for each other, and not everyone can say that.”
“That’s Lori. She’s my best friend, and I’m hers,” says Neal.