Mountain climbing goal stays out of reach

OLIVIA WANNAN
Last updated 05:00 09/01/2014
Neelu Memon

BLIND COURAGE: Neelu Memon, right, in training with Gavin Lang for her latest challenge – climbing South America’s highest mountain.

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A guide's torn knee has flattened the summer dream of legally blind adventurer Neelu Memon to stand on top of Mt Aconcagua - but she's not giving up yet.

The 29-year-old Wellingtonian had already had one near-roadblock. She was deep into a training regime to climb South America's highest mountain when it was interrupted by her own serious health scare two months ago.

As she bounced back in November, the goal to reach the top again seemed achievable. Ms Memon was set to scale the 6960-metre peak in Argentina next month with a Wanaka mountain climbing company which offered her a position with a personal guide on their trip.

But her plans were scuppered when the guide tore a ligament in his knee last month. "I'm so disappointed - I put in so much work," Ms Memon said.

She was told she could still climb, but it would cost more than $35,000 to fly a Kiwi guide over with her.

"It's really reinforced the barriers that people with disabilities face fulfilling their dreams or goals. Money is often a really big thing."

The peak was the first in her goal to climb the seven highest mountains on the seven continents, for which she received a Hillary Expedition grant.

Originally set to reach Aconcagua's summit with guide Gavin Lang on January 30, she was admitted to hospital in October with a severe chest infection and asthma complications. Her doctor advised her to cancel her trip.

"It was very hard to make that call [to cancel], and I do regret it now, but that's what happens, I guess."

The latest setbacks had made her more determined than ever to complete the seven ascents.

"I still want this dream - to show people what people with disabilities can do with support."

Mt Aconcagua is now "on the backburner", and her new goal is to climb Mt Kilimanjaro this year. Ms Memon is no stranger to challenging circumstances.

At 16 she lost 70 per cent of her vision when a post-viral auto-immune response put her into a coma for four months. She had to learn how to walk, talk and swallow again.

Although she can see shapes and colour, everything is blurred and depth perception is a problem.

The illness also permanently affected her balance. But all that barely slowed the keen outdoorswoman down - she climbed Mt Aspiring in 2010 and became the first legally blind runner to complete the Coast to Coast race in 2012.

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- The Dominion Post

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