At nineteen, I gazed through a telescope in the Eielson Visitors Center of Denali National Park in Alaska, unnaturally fixated on a mountain that gripped me at my very core.
A couple months prior my parents had asked what one thing I wanted to do in Alaska before my family moved away from the state. Without hesitation, I said I wanted to go back to Denali – National Park, that is. It is a trip that would forever alter my late night thoughts and deepest desires.
Denali, also named Mt. McKinley, has a tendency towards privacy. Shrouding her self in clouds, it is a rare gift to see pieces of the mountain, let alone her entire 20,237 feet of towering beauty.
The one and only day I was visiting, happened to be the one and only day in the entire month of June 2004 that Denali decided to release the clouds, and offer visitors a near perfect view.
Standing in the visitors center with my Mom, I learned of the mountain’s history, yet felt incredibly anxious and boxed in. I escaped through the viewfinder of the telescope, staring at a mountain that seemed to be smirking at me. I could feel the power it held, its frigid slopes swirling snow into the air with each passing gust of wind. Its call was palpable. The silence of age old snow muted the world around me, until a teasing park ranger leaned in and said, “It’s a good day to summit.”
Over. Denali had me.
Photo: My Dad took this for me two days ago, as he awoke on a flight just in time to see Denali hiding in clouds. (Thanks Dad!)
I returned to college quietly conveying to a few confidants what had happened to me. It wasn’t an idea, or merely a goal. It was a calling. These same friends who shared my love of getting lost in nature – both physically and mentally – agreed to climb it someday with me. (If you’re out there, the offer still stands. This is also an open offer… hint hint)
Not long there after, Arthur (my autoimmune arthritis) had other plans. He systematically began invading my life, challenging my resolve, threatening my very ability to even graduate from college. Somewhere along the way I began to let him win.
Winning the fight against Arthur means waking up every single day and deciding to be the victor.
I have been told, like many and maybe sadly all of you, to do the safe thing, to submit to my arthritis and let it call the shots. As Helen Keller said, “Avoiding danger is no safer in the long run than outright exposure. Life is either a daring adventure or nothing at all.”
Eight months ago, in one of my lowest moments of this disease, I decided to become a runner again. Something I was told was physically impossible and/or not medically in my best interest. Two 5K medals and one flabbergasted rheumatologist later, I am stronger than ever and challenging the possible. My body is healing. Arthur is submitting, not me.
My Mother always says “have faith in that little body,” something Angela Durazo echoed recently when we got a chance to chat about what is actually achievable living with this disease, as opposed to what should be achievable. I left that dinner with her feeling like nothing could stop me.
Granted, that doesn’t mean any of this is or will be easy – quite the opposite. This is about knowing what I want out of life, and getting creative about making it happen.
I’ve quietly begun training for my dream and felt guilty about over-sharing when so many struggle just to walk, to hold the ones they love, to laugh. But the truth is, I’ve been there, and I am telling you that actively fighting for your goals as a person and not a patient will do more for your health and well being than you know.
During a recent visit with my good friend The Afternoon Napper where I outlined my plan, she said, “You are challenging what I thought was possible.” That is exactly my goal; for myself, for doctors, for my fellow patient warriors.
On my first real training hike last weekend, a test to see where I stood, in waning sunlight, I plowed through three miles like it was nothing. I could not have done that five months ago.
Towards the end of the hike, as I led the charge up a steep hill, my hubby with fear and admiration said, “Whoa! Are you sure this is a good idea?”
I paused and simply said, “We won’t know unless I try.”
In the coming months as I train for a goal that is at least a couple years out, I will be setting up a fundraising platform to help get me to Denali. I am doing this for me, to change perceptions of “arthritis”, and to fight for awareness for us all.
Whatever it is you want to do, find a way — where there is a will, there’s a way. As my friend Rachelle said, “We all have our Denalis living with this crappy disease.” Hers is having a second baby. Much love and gratitude for all of your support. -Britt