How I Found Myself on the Roof of Africa

It all started in December 2022 when an email arrived in my inbox from the Michael J. Fox Foundation. I had been on their email list for a little over a year as I’d been doing little challenges here and there to fundraise for the charity. Something in this email caught my eye, a chance to be part of a small group of people climbing Mount Kilimanjaro in Tanzania, it mentioned all the keywords for me: "Challenge yourself to a physical, mental and spiritual experience". Let me be honest with you, hiking and camping are not activities I enjoy. In fact, I actively stay away from them! I didn’t own hiking boots, or anything that I would need on the climb and I rarely go out in nature (too many bugs!). But, I do like a challenge, I do like to travel and I do like to feel I’m making a difference in the world whether it’s a small act of kindness on my way into work, or something larger, like fundraising thousands of dollars. So, I sent off my application, I took a few days to craft it, to explain why I would be a good fit on the team, how I would raise the money (we each committed to raising $10,000 - I ended up raising over $16,500, as a group we have raised over $152,000) and how I would train for it. Two hours after submitting the application I got an email saying they’d love to have me on the team along with a link to sign up. I was in! I signed up immediately so I didn’t have time to think it over and dissuade myself. 

You're in!

A day later I was traveling back to England for Christmas to see my family and I announced what I had signed up for. There were a looks of horror and amazement around the dinner table. 

For most of my teenage years and into my 20s and 30s I was not active, but when I gave up drinking in 2017 at the age of 41, I decided it was time to take control of my body, I was the heaviest I’d ever been and it was time to reverse that. Since then, I’ve found a level of respect for working out (something that’s taken 6 years to develop - but really a lifetime) and I’m enjoying seeing how my physique is changing and how empowering it is to take charge of my body and be in control of it, rather than eat mindlessly and let the flabby bits get flabbier.

Now it’s part of my daily routine and when I’m not working out, I miss it. It helps that I’ve found a place to work out that is an inclusive community of mostly women that lift one another up. 

Working out

So I felt like I was in a place physically that I could accomplish the climb, I would still need to train for it, but I knew I could do it (altitude sickness withstanding). 

When I came back from my trip to England it was time to get serious about training and fundraising. As I said earlier, I’m not an outdoorsy person, I don’t hike, I like the idea of it, but in reality, it’s not something I make time for, but my thought was, what isn’t there to like? Well, turns out there’s a lot, especially when you’re training to climb the world’s tallest freestanding mountain in the world. First off there’s carrying 20lb+ on your back. In the end I was training with about 30lb, so that when I got there, walking with 20lb didn’t feel too bad (I think that strategy paid off because it wasn’t too bad hiking with the day pack on the mountain for hours). Then as the weather got warmer, there were the bugs (something we thankfully didn’t have to worry about on the mountain, there really aren’t any). Then there’s the sheer amount of time that I needed to dedicate to working out (in general, not just hiking), I was finding that I was putting in around 15-20 hours of working out a week and so it was all consuming, working out, mental energy, researching what I needed to buy (I had nothing and knew nothing about hiking and camping, so I was learning from scratch), reading blogs, watching YouTube videos so that I knew what to expect. The YouTube videos had me wondering if I could actually do it, so I stopped watching them and nothing can really prepare you for what you’re about to embark on anyway.

Mount Mitchell, North Carolina

At the beginning of May I hit my fundraising goal, I’m so incredibly grateful for all of the support I got from friends, family and friends of friends etc, knowing that I had them all rooting for me kept me going. It also meant that I could really focus on getting into physical shape. Mount Kilimanjaro is a non-technical climb, so of the seven summits (the tallest mountains in each continent), it’s the easiest one to do in that respect. But I didn’t want to take any chances of not being in the best shape I could be in and I didn’t want to be that person in the group that was holding everyone back. So I upped my workouts. Something I should have done more of in retrospect is actually hiking (see above as to why I didn’t do as many as I should have!).

There were 9 of us in total raising money and doing the climb for the Michael J. Fox Foundation. In the run up to the climb, we met online a handful of times and we had a private Facebook group to chat about our experiences and get to know one another a bit better. But we were all strangers and many of us met for the first time in Africa. The one thing we all had in common though was Parkinson’s Disease. Four of the climbers have PD and the rest of us have a parent that has the disease. Raising money for this incredible charity really was (and still is) a very important part of our lives, we’ve all raised money for the charity in the past and we will continue to do so. I couldn’t have asked for a better group of people to share in this incredible experience. 


Together, the 9 of us spanned 6 decades, and with that came experience, wisdom and fun. There was Betty Frances Thomason just 19 whose dad has PD, Alex DiLalla, 28, diagnosed a year ago just two weeks before his wedding with early onset PD, Connie Qian, 32, whose father has PD, Laura Aldrich, 35, whose father passed away with PD, Justin Fields, 38, with early onset PD and a deep brain stimulator, Kristen Gillan, 46, whose mom has PD, me 47, my dad has PD, Mark Kohus, 52, diagnosed with early onset PD and Lucretia who is 67 and was diagnosed with PD 5 years ago. I can honestly say, those 8 men and women are family now, we are friends for life and will be a constant in one another's lives. I know that if I ever need anything, I just need to ask and they will be there for me.

And then there are the 33 porters and guides that got us up the mountain. The 9 of us had the easy part of the trip. The porters and guides cooked, packed, cleaned (camp, toilets and us!), set up camp, broke down camp, advised us, kept us safe, carried all of our belongings, danced, sang and countless other roles, many of which I don't even know about. Everyone had a job and they all did them with a smile on their faces. Putting their lives in danger for very little pay. There's absolutely no way we could have done it without their encouragement everyday. And I am forever grateful to them.

To say that the experience was life-changing is an understatement. Friends were telling me that I would come back a changed person. I didn’t think I would, but I did. It’s opened my eyes to so many new possibilities. I have a sense of accomplishment, I know I can do hard things (I had to really dig deep on summit night), I know that if I set my mind to something, I can achieve it. I know I will have a lot of challenges ahead of me - some will be self-inflicted, others not - but I will overcome them and come out the other end stronger, more confident and happier, just like I did when I came down from Mount Kilimanjaro. 

I have achieved something I never thought would be possible - climbing Mount Kilimanjaro. 

On the Roof of Africa

We have put together a GoFundMe (read some of the porters stories) and Amazon Wishlist for the porters so that we can get them the hiking and camping equipment they need to keep them safe and uninjured on the mountain. We would love your support.

Day 1: Morum Barrier Gate to Shira 1 Camp, Wednesday August 9th, 2023
Day 2: Shira 1 Camp to Shira 2 Camp, Thursday August 10th, 2023
Day 3: Shira 2 Camp to Barranco Camp via Lava Tower, Friday August 11th, 2023
Day 4: Barranco Camp to Karanga Camp, Saturday August 12th, 2023
Day 5: Karanga Camp to Barafu Camp, Sunday August 13th, 2023


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