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Blind climber finds love on peak

MATT STEWART
Last updated 05:00 30/08/2014
Neelu Memon  Oliver Jennings
SUMMIT PROPOSAL: Neelu Memon ecstatically accepted a surprise proposal from boyfriend Oliver Jennings after the pair reached the top of Mt Kilimanjaro.

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Blind climber Neelu Memon has scaled Africa's tallest mountain and now has a ring to show for her journey.

The 30-year-old from Wellington and her boyfriend, Oliver Jennings, conquered Mt Kilimanjaro this month.

On reaching the summit, Jennings turned and proposed to his partner, who gave a tired but emphatic "yes".

Unbeknown to the pair, their Swedish climbing partners had the same idea and had also got engaged 15 minutes earlier at the same spot.

But Memon, an adviser at the Office for Disability Issues, almost didn't make it through her first time "at altitude" .

Just five metres from the 5895m summit, she wanted to curl up and have a snooze.

Jennings was faring even worse, but managed to motivate his soon-to-be-fiancee to reach the summit despite intense headaches and breathing problems.

"It was not a very pleasant experience - I wanted to throw up, I lost all motivation and my body felt massively fatigued and just wanted to fall asleep," she said.

But euphoria soon followed trauma as Jennings popped the question, despite having second thoughts about taking his gloves off in the -24 degrees Celsius chill.

"He said something really soppy but it was lovely, and then all I wanted to do was get down the mountain."

The couple now joke that she accepted and he proposed only in the haze of altitude sickness.

They have not yet set a date but Memon said their families would prefer that the wedding not be an alpine one.

Memon is used to overcoming obstacles and setbacks. At 16 years old she lost 70 per cent of her vision after a post-viral autoimmune response put her into a four-month coma.

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

Climbing Kilimanjaro was the first time Memon had gone to altitude and the experience has left her conflicted about climbing again, despite plans to conquer the seven highest mountains in seven continents.

But she was concerned that going to altitude at least six more times could intensify her brain injury and damage her health.

Memon said she could not have made the ascent without her eight-strong support crew, including her two Tanzanian guides, and financial backing from the Wellington Paraplegic and Physically Disabled Trust.

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- The Dominion Post

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