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Climbing Africa's roof

Erika Durlacher tackles Kilimanjaro for Alzheimer's



Erika Durlacher's journey to the "roof of Africa"— the peak of Mount Kilimanjaro — began eight years ago when her husband Peter was diagnosed with Alzheimer's.

She was determined, however, to climb Mount Kilimanjaro, before she turned 70 and though she will be the oldest member of her Ascent For Alzheimer's team, led once again by Whistler's Sue Oakey in September, that doesn't concern her. She's on a mission, after all: to raise money for research and to support people living with the degenerative disease that has made relentless progress in her life since 2006.

Together with her daughter Kim, the duo is hoping to raise $25,000. Donation boxes will be in select stores around Whistler for the next month.

"It's giving me inspiration," said Durlacher. "Otherwise, it can be very emotionally draining because you see the deterioration day by day and you've got to have a positive outlook."

It's not easy... knowing how the disease progresses. For the first three years they were still able to run their bed and breakfast business, Durlacher Hof, which they ran together for 25 years. That became increasingly difficult.

Peter continued to ski too before Alzheimer's robbed him of that in 2011, when he could no longer safely get down the mountain.

Just last month, weeks before his 83rd birthday, Peter lost the ability to stand and bear his own weight.

"We are now in the later stages," said Durlacher, adding that this latest development presents new challenges getting to appointments in the city.

Despite the difficulties, she is trying her hardest to stay in Whistler, the place they have called home since 1988.

"This is our home, we love the mountains," she said.

"We're trying to let people know that it can happen, that we can live in our community right 'til the end by just being a little more adaptable."

This journey to the highest peak in Africa is becoming increasingly important.

She's training already, power walking, doing Aquafit, readying for the climb. And she's taking it all in stride.

"I'm not worried about it, no," she said. "Nobody can tell you how you'll manage the altitude. That, apparently, we can't prepare for. But I'll do my damnedest to be in good shape."

The Alzheimer Society of B.C. donation boxes will be in select stores throughout Whistler until March 31. All donations from this campaign will be split between Erika Durlacher and Pierre Marc Jette, who is looking to beat the official Guinness World Record of skiing 4,146,890 vertical feet in a single season. Jette plans to raise ten cents for every foot skied.


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