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Nelson pair "eyes" for blind climber

JONATHAN CARSON
Last updated 12:58 03/09/2014
St John Ambulance staff
REACHING HIGH: From left, Neelu Memon, Anna-Karin Eriksson from Sweden, Oliver Jennings, Wellington; Johan Lith, Sweden; and Nelsonians Susan Baillie and Peter Coeland on Mt Kilimanjaro.

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On the savage slopes of Mt Kilimanjaro, a Nelson couple was Neelu Memon's eyes.

Memon, of Wellington, is aiming to be the first blind woman to climb the Seven Summits - the highest mountains on seven continents.

The 30-year-old knocked off Kilimanjaro, Africa's tallest mountain, in August with her Nelson-based friends Peter Coeland and Susan Baillie by her side.

The experienced mountaineers were on Memon's eight-strong support team - her guides and eyes during the six-day slog to the top. The group reached Uhuru Peak, 5985 metres above sea level, on August 17.

Coeland, 56, and Baillie, 55, said they mostly provided moral support but also helped to guide Memon through day-to-day challenges.

"There are a lot of other things associated with helping somebody who's blind, like going to the toilet, for example," Coeland said.

"All of the smaller stuff that you take for granted all becomes quite an issue, especially when you're at 4000m and beyond."

Coeland, who has climbed most of the world's highest mountains, including Everest, said the whole team experienced altitude sickness - headaches, nausea, shortness of breath.

And on the final day Memon was ready to give up.

"She definitely wanted to give up a few hundred metres below the summit and we had to talk her on, tell her a few lies.

"Just basically that she's so close - ‘don't give up now, you can't turn back now, this is what you've always dreamed about. You've got to do it."'

When Memon finally reached the summit, her boyfriend Oliver Jennings proposed to her, and she said yes.

"She was pretty euphoric," Coeland said.

"It's quite emotional at the top," Baillie added.

"That sense of accomplishment and achievement is incredibly overwhelming and powerful.

"I felt that and then if I put myself in Neelu's shoes, it had to be double what I was feeling.

"Very impressive."

Coeland and Baillie have been invited to join Memon on her next climb to the summit of Mt Aconcagua (6960m) in Argentina.

But they haven't yet decided if they will go.

Memon is already the first legally blind person to complete the Coast to Coast race.

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- The Nelson Mail

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