Although I have summited 20 of the 54 Colorado 14,000-foot peaks, my hikes up these peaks in the last few years have taken a whole new meaning. Tomorrow, I am climbing three “14ers” in one day along with my team Ascending for Alzheimer’s. Our climb is part of The Longest Day, a sunrise-to-sunset event that symbolizes the challenging journey of those living with the disease and their caregivers.
Three years ago, I received news that was not really a surprise, but still hit me straight in the heart. My dad was diagnosed with early-stage progressive dementia. His actions prior to the diagnosis led us to believe that he may have something wrong with him, but to hear the diagnosis of “dementia” from a doctor was terrifying and heartbreaking. It also prompted many questions from every one of my family members.
My first instinct was to conduct research. This led me directly to the Alzheimer’s Association where I immediately signed up for classes that taught me more about the disease and provided resources for both my mom (my dad’s primary caregiver) and myself (secondary caregiver.) Seeing all the great work that the Alzheimer’s Association did made me want to become more involved.
This is how I found out about The Longest Day, an event where I could choose my own activity to help raise funds and awareness for the cause. I came across the Association’s various fundraising initiatives and was immediately intrigued that I could help by simply doing what I love – hiking! So in 2014, I formed my first team to support The Longest Day event.
My team hiked up Mount Sherman, all dressed in their purple shirts. At the summit we were met with an unexpected surprise as a cello ensemble was performing in effort to break a Guinness record for highest elevation cello concert! It was a great opportunity to spread the word about Alzheimer’s and The Longest Day, and our team raised over $1,700.
Last year, my team climbed Mount Shavano. Though the summit was spectacular, the most exciting part of the climb was actually the descent – a “glissade” of nearly 2,000 feet of elevation. Each of us took turns sitting and sliding down the snow field. It was fun, safe and saved our knees from the brutal hike down. Our team raised over $5,000!
Tomorrow we are hiking Mount Lincoln, Mount Democrat and Mount Bross all in one day in hopes to raise $5,000 once again. Our event begins tonight with camping at the trailhead, where I am making a Dutch oven lasagna and fruit cobbler. Tomorrow, we are getting on the trail early – a 6:00 am start.
I will think of my dad as I climb. He is now in the middle-stage of dementia. He uses a walker or cane to get around. He struggles every day to walk, talk, eat – all the things you and I take for granted. The hike will remind me of the struggles those living with Alzheimer’s and related dementias go through every day. As I hit my “wall” at about 12,500 feet and my whole body is screaming at me to stop, turn around and just go back to the comfort of my couch at home, I will push through to the summit… just like my dad pushes through every day. But tomorrow isn’t just any day. Tomorrow is The Longest Day.
About the Author: John Osmundson is hiking to raise funds and Alzheimer’s awareness in Alzheimer’s Association The Longest Day®, a sunrise-to-sunset event on June 20, 2016, to raise awareness and funds for Alzheimer’s care, support and research. Click here to visit John’s page.