Before settling on a New Year’s resolution today, take inspiration from 57-year-old former Rye resident Wendy Booker.
Wendy’s resolution for 2012 is to leave New Year’s Day on a 17-day ski and sled expedition to the South Pole. Her 2011 goal was the North Pole, which she completed in April, and in the spring she will take on Greenland, the last step in the Polar Trilogy.
All of these goals represent the resolution Wendy made for herself in 1998, one that would dictate the rest of her life. It was 1998 when Wendy was diagnosed with relapsing-remitting Multiple Sclerosis.
The autoimmune disease could have left Wendy discouraged, the victim of a downward spiral in neurological functioning. That is, if she had not had a life-changing revelation. Powered by her unwavering spirit and a modern therapy for MS that eases symptoms, Wendy has dedicated her life to climbing mountains of all kinds, motivating others by example to live life to the fullest.
Today, despite the reoccurring symptoms of her MS, including numbness on her left side, Wendy will commence a trek to the South Pole with her team across two miles of ice, against the force of ruthless winds. This January marks the 100th anniversary of the race between Norway’s Roald Amundsen and England’s Robert Falcon Scott to be the first to reach the geographical South Pole. Wendy’s trip will commemorate this event.
A team of cinematographers will be joining Wendy and her team on their climb. A documentary is currently in the works that will follow the group on the Polar Trilogy, spearheaded by Producer Eran Hayden.
Wendy’s passion for adventure despite her MS is even more remarkable given her lifestyle before the diagnosis. Before MS, Wendy was an interior designer and mom to three boys. “I was doing all the things I thought I should do,” she says of her role as a soccer mom and halloween costume designer. That was until her world was turned upside down.
When Wendy received the diagnosis, she immediately pictured herself wheelchair-bound for the rest of her life. She mourned the news for a little, and says any person newly confronted with a challenge should allow themselves that pity party. “Lay on the couch, eat Bon Bons, and watch Oprah,” she recommends from her own experience. “It’s what happens after you get off the couch.”
It was not long before Wendy was tired of feeling helpless. It was time to push back. But Wendy did not merely want to continue living as she had before MS. The diagnosis had put her life into perspective. “Taking life for granted stopped when I was diagnosed,” says Wendy. “I thought, ‘I better do something really outrageous and out of character.’"
Wendy began running marathons (she has completed 10), then triathlons, and even did some sky diving, all of which she had never done before the diagnosis. After hearing about a team of mountain climbers with MS who were determined to climb Mt. McKinley in Alaska, the highest peak in North America, Wendy added mountain climbing to her list of new hobbies.
In 2004, she became the first person with MS to reach the top of Mt. McKinley. Soon after, Wendy set a new goal — to complete climbs to the Seven Summits, the tallest peaks of each continent. Though she has not been able to complete all seven, the single mom of three certainly did not go down without a fight. Wendy tackled six of the mountains but, after two attempts, could not beat Mt. Everest.
Wendy describes her trial with Everest as “a hard nut to swallow,” but the experience was just a reminder of her real mission- to conquer her disease. She learned that although, “you might have to change how you get there,” you can not go wrong if you stand by your goal.
Wendy’s success has not been without the help of therapy to control her symptoms. Like most MS patients, she feared living her life in a wheelchair. Most people associate immobility with the disease.
Until 1993, there were no drugs to treat the symptoms of MS. New therapies have brightened prospects for MS patients. It has become part of Wendy’s mission to raise awareness of the new therapies, to do away with current misconceptions.
Fourteen years ago, Wendy began therapy on Copaxone. She could not be more thrilled with the results. “Get on and stay on a therapy,” she advises all MS patients. Wendy takes daily injections, even during her expeditions, from altitudes of 2000 ft. Special pockets sewn into her clothes protect the drug from freezing in the -40 degree temperature. She never misses a day.
Wendy prefers Copaxone to other therapies because there are no side effects. To maintain such a lifestyle as this, she can not afford any wild cards.
Wendy’s team knows she has MS, but they also know MS does not have Wendy. “It would be unfair and irresponsible for me not to be up to the task,” says Wendy. The team all depends on each other and she needs to be able to pull her own weight.
Years of training has prepared Wendy. Her symptoms might set her back a little. She may stumble or stop to catch her break, but she always tells her team that no matter what, “I’ll see them at the top”.
When she is not mountain climbing, Wendy spends time with her family in Boston, 4 hours from her childhood home in Rye. Wendy was a student at Rye High School until her parents dragged her out of her comfort zone to Brussels, Belgium. She now looks back at the move and appreciates having had the challenge. “I was exposed to so much at 16 that I know I can go anywhere and I’ll be fine,” Wendy laughs.
But Wendy is not only climbing the world’s highest peaks. Wendy is an educator, speaking to audiences all around the world about the power of the human spirit. Wendy has presented at the Lexia Learning’s Sales Conference, Mt. Sinai Hospital and Harvard University, to name but a few.
Some of her most influential speaking, however, has been to the ears of 4th graders at the Donald McKay School in East Boston. “Life is really tough for these guys,” Wendy says of the students. Her curriculum includes a climb to Mt. Monadnock, a trip that allows students to experience the symbolic journey that is the life of Wendy Booker.
At the same time, Wendy has students participate in drives for her non-profit, The Other Side of Everest Educational Foundation.The foundation raises funds for children in Nepal who have lost their fathers to dangerous climbs in the Himalayas. She has coupled both of her projects, one in East Boston and one in Nepal, to teach the 4th graders about giving back.
Wendy’s life is the model for her speeches. She knows from her own experience that life can be hard, but that determination and hope can make it better. “My slogan is ‘Come Climb with Me,’” she says. She invites the world to be inspired by her adventures.
Wendy Booker is an inspiration to all of us. Take it from a guy with progressive MS who has battled this disease for over 15 years, what she is doing is nothing short of incredible. Even though she has a mild form of the disease and is on medication, climbing mountains isn't easy for anyone, but it's her perseverance and positive attitude that help her reach her goal.
One thing MS taught me is perseverance. I simply never give up. Sometimes that's bad, but other times it's the most important coping mechanism in life. Now, when I stumble and fall, both literally and figuratively, I just laugh it off, pick myself right up and forge ahead.
MS also teaches you to live with great uncertainty. It doesn't scare me anymore. Sure, it's a bitch at times, and there are moments where I get down and feel cheated out of life, but I know I will beat this disease. I am already beating it through diet, weight training, supplements, research, and most importantly, focusing on doing what I love doing today, as opposed to what might happen in the future.
All I can tell you about MS is that it is a complicated disease. Some researchers are questioning whether it's even an autoimmune disease. I can guarantee you that there is an environmental component and lack of sun and vitamin D plays a role.
I hate all diseases, not just MS. Some people are lucky and others aren't. But far too many people take their health for granted. There is a mountain of evidence that lifestyle choices, including poor nutrition, lack of exercise and smoking, contribute to a lot of diseases (read The China Study).
I believe smoking is the stupidest thing you can do. It is highly addictive, a total waste of money, and significantly increases your risk for all sorts of diseases, including heart disease, lung cancer and pancreatic cancer, the deadliest cancer of all. Sure, I will have the occasional cigar and whiskey, but it is rare and in moderation. If you have MS, don't smoke cigarettes, period. You will only aggravate your condition and accelerate disability.
And the same goes for eating food loaded with saturated fats and drinking soda pop. People should treat their mind and body a lot better. Don't go overboard but do some research on eating properly and understanding your cholesterol and risk for heart disease. And forget diets, they do not work! If you want to lose weight, reduce your portions, eat more frequently throughout the day, incorporating fruits, veggies, nuts and dates, get moving and most importantly, reduce needless stress in your life (some stresses are good, others are lethal!).
The stupidest thing people do after the holiday season is go on starvation diets. I can't overemphasize this, diets do not work! You need to take responsibility for your health, take a holistic approach, be patient and work at your own pace. But do something, learn from failure, and move forward.
People often ask me what I do to beat MS but the reality is I am not on any medication (nothing available for progressive MS, which is pathetic!). I just take an active approach to my health. I've tried everything, have done the Liberation treatment (think it helped), watch my diet, take high dose vitamin D (cut it down to 12,000 IUs a day which is still high), go to the gym, and just focus on putting myself first. If you need ideas and inspiration on diet, exercise and MS, watch this clip of how a doctor reversed her MS through eating properly and exercise.
I also ingest oils like Udo's oil (on salads), NeurOmega (every morning), flax seeds, and many supplements like magnesium (at night), Coenzyme Q10 and vitamin K2 (with dinner) and gingko biloba (twice a day). Vitamin D and K2 are fat soluble, best taken with your largest meal of the day. Interestingly, a Canadian study found that CoQ10 extends fertility, giving women hope that they can bear children later in life.
I recently purchased Anatabloc, an anti-inflammatory dietary supplement on advice of a doctor friend with cardiac problems who saw a dramatic decrease in her LDL and cholesterol levels. In her own words: "...my cholesterol came down from 275 to 205, and LDL from 147 to 75. Company claims that Anatabloc working 4-5 times stronger than Lipitor, and no side-effects. I am very impressed with the results." She told me to look at the patent information as they claim it helps relieve many conditions and may benefit MS.
[Note: She is an experienced physician who does not believe in quack medicine. Johns Hopkins University is currently studying this compound. My buddy, a cardiologist at Stanford, is highly skeptical...he thinks Lipitor is the best drug on earth to combat bad cholesterol (LDL). Goldman Sachs has a big position in Star Scientific (CIGX), the makers of Anatabloc.]
When it comes to food, I avoid all garbage, especially processed foods, chips and cookies. I stick with the Cretan diet, which means Greek salads, olive oil, fish, lean meats, fruits, veggies and drink lots of water and the occasional red wine. I love Mediterranean sea bass, Greek-style boneless chicken in herbs, olive oil and lemon, and steamed broccoli, spinach, asparagus, Greek 'horta' and Italian rapini. When I want to munch on something, I like cherries, red grapes, pomegranate seeds, dried dates, or macadamia nuts (just a handful in the afternoon gets rid of your sugar cravings).
Luckily, I don't have a sweet tooth but my problem is portions. When I'm hungry, I become an absolute bitch, and can eat a horse! I now force myself to eat breakfast (egg white omelet, blackberries, and looking into gluten free oatmeal) and snack properly in between meals (dried dates, macadamia nuts, pineapple slices, broccoli with ranch dip) so I don't stuff myself at night.
Most important is your state of mind. Don't waste your beautiful energy on negativity or negative people. Some people are born miserable and selfish, let them be. You will never change them. Focus on those who care most about you.
I can write a PhD thesis on MS, nutrition and lifestyle, but I am careful not to instill false hope in people battling this disease or any other disease. My motto is simple, do whatever works for you, but do something! Don't wait for miracles or drugs . There are already many new drugs available for MS, including oral pills, and the cure for MS is in sight, but do not underestimate the power of proper nutrition, exercise like weight training (focus just on back and legs) and swimming (the best exercise of all!), and take care of your emotional equilibrium.
Don't let MS or any disease hold you back. Focus on what today brings, not what tomorrow may bring. Enjoy life and don't take anything for granted. Learn from people like Wendy Booker and Ian Law who is defying the 'slow burn' of multiple sclerosis to chase a sailing dream. Everyone has a mountain to climb, so get busy, get cracking, and enjoy the journey.
Watch this BBC clip on MS, and below, more exciting medical breakthroughs are bringing new hope to multiple sclerosis patients. Have a Happy and Healthy New Year!