WKND Conversations: This Emirati scaled the Everest... at home
Mountaineer Hanady Alhashmi completed the 8,848m simulated climb to turn the spotlight on multiple sclerosis in the UAE.
Hanady Alhashmi has been climbing mountains since 2015. And, so far, she's ticked five of the Seven Summits off her list. Unfortunately, Covid-19 threw a wrench in her plans to conquer the last two, but the unforeseen delay hasn't deterred this Emirati from continuing to test her limits - even if at home.
In celebration of Emirati Women's Day last week, Hanady successfully completed a simulated climb of the height of Mt Everest - 8,848 metres - using a treadmill at varied inclines. But this was no feat for personal glory. The mountaineer has been passionately raising awareness for multiple sclerosis (MS) since last year through an initiative called ClimbforMS - and her recent challenge was also undertaken in the hopes of turning a greater spotlight on the disease.
Multiple sclerosis is a chronic, potentially debilitating disease of the central nervous system. The symptoms vary from person to person, but may include numbness, impairment of speech and of muscular coordination, blurred vision, and severe fatigue.
According to a 2016 study by Johns Hopkins University in conjunction with Tawam Hospital, the number of Emiratis living with multiple sclerosis in the capital alone is more than twice the global estimate. However, few are aware of how prevalent the disease is in the country, says Hanady. For her, the cause has become especially personal because it affects women "two to three times more than men" - not to mention, struck friends she knows.
For the challenge, Hanady 'climbed' for hours every day with her treadmill set to varying inclines of 15 to 40 per cent. "It's obviously not the same thing as being on an actual mountain," says the sportswoman, who is also the first Emirati to successfully climb North America's highest mountain, Denali. "On real mountains, you have to deal with all kinds of hazards, with frostbite and changes in altitude."
Nevertheless, hiking for hours at a time - albeit at home - imposed its own physical and mental tolls. "I took it slowly, just like I would on an actual climb, with breaks to rest and rehydrate... On a real mountain, you never hike for seven days straight; you always take a rest day in between. I chose not to do that, so, on the last two days, I really had to will myself to go on," she admits. "My feet were getting sore and I was having thoughts of quitting. I had to push myself mentally to get through it." Hanady eventually achieved her goal at the end of seven days.
Drawing parallels between mountaineering and living with multiple sclerosis, Hanady notes that both require a combination of resilience and perseverance. "Multiple sclerosis is not curable; it's a condition you have to live with. There are a lot of lifestyle changes that people with the condition have to adapt to, and the severity of the attack(s) may even result in disability. It takes resilience and perseverance to get through life then."
The Emirati is hoping to finish the Seven Summits in the next couple of years (if circumstances permit), making her the first Emirati woman to do so. Then and now, she believes, the best thing she can do to change the world for those with multiple sclerosis is to keep raising awareness. "I want to use my climbing adventures to give a platform to those living with the disease. If someone can read my posts and go away better educated - maybe even help a friend get correctly diagnosed - that will be enough for me."