Rising Above MS: How Mountaineer Lori Schneider Coped with Her Diagnosis

Multiple sclerosis could have kept her from climbing the Seven Summits. It didn’t.

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Mountain climbing is no easy feat. It involves navigating a variety of terrains—rock, ice, river, and snow—all while carrying a backpack full of gear and avoiding altitude sickness. It’s challenging for anyone, but for Lori Schneider, a diagnosis in 1999 made the accomplishment even more inspiring.

“One morning in 1999, I swung my legs out of bed, and I realized that I was numb on one side of my body. It was as if someone would have drawn a line down,” recalls Schneider, gesturing down the center of her body. “One side of my body was numb, and the other wasn’t.”

Afraid, she immediately called the doctor, beginning a three-month period of doctor appointments and testing. “I was tested for stroke, Lyme disease, lupus, and even brain cancer,” says Schneider. “It took about three months to determine that I indeed did have MS.”

MS, or multiple sclerosis, is a disease of the central nervous system. The immune system mistakenly attacks the brain, spinal cord, and optic nerves, causing inflammation and damaging the myelin (a fatty substance that insulates the nerves), according to the National Multiple Sclerosis Society.

The attacks on the central nervous system causes miscommunication between the brain and body, resulting in symptoms like numbness, problems with balance and coordination, and vision problems. Learn more about symptoms of MS here.

By the time the doctors diagnosed Schneider with MS, she had already experienced a second attack, causing numbness on the other side of her body. “They thought my MS was rapidly progressing,” says Schneider. “One doctor told me that I could be in a wheelchair within a year’s time. It was devastating, and I thought the prognosis was going to end life as I knew it.”

Overcoming the Diagnosis

Despite the testing and the pessimistic prognosis, Schneider secretly continued to train for her next climb—Mount Aconcagua. This Argentinian  peak reaches an elevation of 22,837 feet and is one of the Seven Summits (the highest peaks in each of the seven continents).

“I didn’t tell anybody because I was afraid that now I was given that label of MS, people would say I couldn’t do it,” says Schneider.

A year after she first woke up numb and called her doctor, she reached the peak of Mount Aconcagua. “When I got to the top of that mountain, I told myself, ‘Girl, if you’re strong enough to climb a mountain, you’re strong enough to face this disease head on without shame and without embarrassment, and it’s time to start living your life again,’” says Schneider.

In the decade that followed, Schneider would set her sights on another large peak to conquer, aiming to complete each of the Seven Summits. On May 23, 2009—within 10 years of her diagnosis—Schneider was standing on top of Mount Everest, and was the first person with MS to complete the Seven Summits. Find out more about Schneider’s journey to complete the Seven Summits here.

Schneider has achieved the ultimate goal of MS treatment: sustained remission. In fact, some of the initial lesions that caused her early MS symptoms no longer appear on the MRI results. Although some lesions still appear and she still has MS (which has no known cure at this time), the condition is no longer active. “Never underestimate your body’s ability to heal on some level,” says Schneider.