To most Americans, polio is a vaccine your children receive in four doses from age 2 months to 4-6 years.
But to people in Afghanistan, Pakistan and Nigeria – three countries where polio is still a threat – it’s a crippling disease, often fatal or causing disability.
It is for these people that five local Rotarians are preparing to climb Mount Kilimanjaro Sept. 10-15.
Raising awareness and money
“This is an extreme fundraiser,” said Tom McNichol, president of the Shelby Rotary Club, which has three members participating in the climb. “It’s a great way for Rotary to get awareness for polio. We are not doing this for ourselves. We are doing this to raise money for polio.”
A total of five climbers are making the trip from Cleveland County: McNichol, Michael Cheng and Allen Langley from Shelby Rotary; Mark Patterson from Shelby Breakfast Rotary and Bryan Baker from Kings Mountain Rotary.
McNichol heard about “The Climb to End Polio Now,” at a meeting in Mooresville.
“I thought about it all the way home and decided it was something I needed to do,” he said.
Preparing for the trip
He and the others have trained since January and are now climbing 12 to 15 miles every Saturday with a weighted backpack.
“I’ve lost about 25 pounds since Christmas,” McNichol said. “I play basketball at the YMCA and I’ve been in physical therapy since July with back issues. We worked through it and I’ve taken care of it.”
The five hikers have had plenty of time to get to know each other.
“It’s been a great friendship,” said Baker, a dentist in Kings Mountain. “It’s been a lot of fun. On 6- to 8-hour hikes you talk about a lot of things. They are great guys.”
Facing the unknown
The hikers have done what they can to train for the climb, but they face many unknowns, such as altitude sickness. They can’t prepare for it, because the highest altitude in western North Carolina is Mount Mitchell at 6,683 feet. The climb at Mount Kilimanjaro begins at about 5,900 feet. The mountain’s summit is 19,341 feet.
“One of the biggest things about altitude sickness is acclimatization,” McNichol said. “The slower you go in the climb, the better the chances are of reaching the top.”
The climbers also have to prepare for the weather. They begin in temperatures similar to the equator and reach the peak at temperatures similar to the North Pole.
“On summit night, you walk all night uphill in sub-freezing temperatures and peak at 6:30 in the morning,” McNichol said.
Baker said he’s ready for the challenge.
“I’m a high adventure kind of guy,” he said. “This seemed like an opportunity of a lifetime, and it is a good way to raise some funds and have a little adventure.”