Blind climber ignores 'stupid limitations'

'The outdoors is where I belong' - blind climber

BRONWYN TORRIE
Last updated 05:00 12/10/2012
TENACIOUS SPIRIT: Neelu Memon on the summit of Mt Aspiring. After a debilitating illness when she was 16, she had to learn to walk again and is legally blind.
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TENACIOUS SPIRIT: Neelu Memon on the summit of Mt Aspiring. After a debilitating illness when she was 16, she had to learn to walk again and is legally blind.

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Neelu Memon loves climbing mountains - they don't care she's blind.

"They are just there and it's all about me, how much I can do to save myself. The outdoors is where I belong."

The 28-year-old is on a mission to knock off the highest mountains on seven continents.

It's a lifetime goal, but one she hopes to start as soon as she raises the $15,000 needed for her first climb up Mt Aconcagua in Argentina.

Ms Memon, who moved to Wellington from Christchurch this week to take up an internship with Green MP Mojo Mathers, lost most of her sight at the age of 16.

She was struck down by what doctors thought was a serious case of the flu. "I fell asleep in hospital one night and didn't wake up."

The avid snowboarder spent four months in a coma while her immune system attacked the protective covering on the nerves in the brain. When she woke up, she had to learn to walk, talk and swallow again.

"Rehabilitation taught me a lot about tenacity. I do a lot of sports that feel like hell but you keep doing it."

She was left with balance problems and 30 per cent vision, which means she is legally blind.

Though she can see shapes and colour, everything is blurry and she struggles with depth perception.

Her insatiable taste for the outdoors was reignited in 2010 when she climbed Mt Aspiring in the South Island.

People told her she was crazy and not to do it, but when she reached the 3028-metre summit, she experienced an "awakening".

‘There was kind of an awakening that I didn't have to adhere to people's stupid perceived limitations of what I can and can't do as a disabled person. That was really my first realisation that I could do anything with the right support."

She plans to climb some of the world's highest peaks with her friend, Gavin Lang, who pushed her to conquer Mt Aspiring.

If successful, she will become the first disabled New Zealand woman to do so. But that wasn't the motivation, she said. "I don't really care for the glory, I just want to climb mountains."

Ms Memon became the first legally blind person to finish the Coast-to-Coast individual race, in February.

She is a Courage in Sport finalist for the 2012 Attitude Awards.

SEVEN SUMMITS

Everest 8848m, Himalayas.

Aconcagua 6962m, Argentina.

Mt McKinley/Denali, 6194m, Alaska.

Kilimanjaro 5892m, Africa.

Elbrus 5642m, Russia.

Vinson Massif 4892m, Antarctica.

Carstensz Pyramid 4884m, West Papua New Guinea.

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- © Fairfax NZ News

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