Blind climber receives Hillary grant

23:37, Dec 04 2012
Neelusha Memon and Olly Marshall
MADE IT: Blind runner Neelusha Memon and helper Olly Marshall finish the Coast to Coast race at Sumner on Saturday.

Legally blind adventurer Neelusha Memon’s dream of conquering South America’s highest peak is one step closer thanks to a Hillary Expedition Grant.

Today it was announced she was one of seven teams to receive a Hillary grant, which provides funding from Sport New Zealand for Kiwis to undertake outdoor challenges.

The 28-year-old Wellingtonian has set out to summit the seven highest mountains across the seven continents, starting with the 6960m-high Mt Aconcagua.

Ms Memon said she was thrilled to receive the grant, which would help to fund her ascent of the Argentinian mountain with support guide Gavin Lang.

‘‘I didn’t think it would ever really go ahead, based on the fact we couldn’t get funding, so to get this grant is a massive thing for me.’’

The worldwide expedition was a personal challenge for Ms Memon, the ‘‘ultimate test’’ of her physical and mental endurance.


But she was also hoping to set an example for others to follow.

‘‘I’ve got impairments but I’m still able to complete my dreams, with the right support.

‘‘Once they realise it, pretty much everyone is limitless in what they can do.’’

When she was 16, Ms Memon lost 70 per cent of her vision after a post-viral autoimmune response caused her to fall into a four-month coma.

She also lost her sense of balance, and had to learn how to walk, talk and swallow again.

A lifelong fan of the outdoors, Ms Memon has been setting herself adventure challenges since 2010, when she climbed Mt Aspiring in the South Island.

In February this year, she became the first legally blind runner to complete the Coast-to-Coast race.

She hopes people will track her fitness, balance and altitude training as well as the November 2013 ascension of the peak on the Hillary Expedition website, and will be inspired themselves.‘‘I want New Zealand to come along on the journey with me, and be part of this – to encourage people to get out in the outdoors.’’

After reaching the summit of Aconcagua, Ms Memon planned to climb Mt Kilimanjaro, Elbrus, Carstensz Pyramid, Denali, Vinson and Everest, over the next five years.


- Sarah Wilson will complete a Cook to Cook multi-sport expedition, climbing Mt Cook, cycling to Picton, then kayaking across Cook Strait in January 2013.

- Brothers Nathan and Nigel Watson will climb 21 New Zealand mountains over 2000m in 21 days in February, in the Nelson Lakes National Park.

- In April, Rob Frost, Ben Dare, Andrei van Dusschoten, and Scott Blackford Scheele will attempt to be the first Kiwi team to summit Himalayan peak Anidesha Chuli, also known as the White Wave.

- Kayaking team Jordan Searle, Barny Young and Shannon Mast will make a record-breaking attempt in April for the first kayak descent of the Grand Canyons of the Chimbu River in Papua New Guinea.

- In May, Mayan Smith-Gobat will free-climb ‘‘The Nose’’ wall in California’s Yosemite Valley, and will try to break the current speed record of 2 hours 26 minutes.

- Christine Burke will attempt to become the first New Zealand woman to reach the summit of both the Gasherbrum 1 and 2 mountains on the Pakistan-China border, in June. 

The Dominion Post