Next Stop for MS Survivor Wendy Booker: The South Pole

57-year-old woman with Multiple Sclerosis embarks on climb today.

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. 


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