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Everest base camp no barrier for expedition

Rise Above Barriers brings wheelchair-bound woman to legendary camp



Pippa Blake couldn’t be prouder of her sons.

In 2006, Jordan Blake won Ironman Canada to rank among the elite in one of the world’s toughest endurance events.

Her youngest son, Ollie Blake, a Whistler ski coach, followed in his brother’s footsteps last August, placing 16 th overall in his first ever Ironman with only minimal training. Next year the two brothers will race each other for the first time.

But what they accomplished this fall, with the help of friends and supporters, may have been their hardest and most rewarding tests of endurance yet. In a world where almost everything has been done, Ollie and Jordan attempted something new by bringing Pippa — who has Multiple Sclerosis and requires the use of a wheelchair — up the long and winding trail to the Mount Everest Base Camp.

“They were so incredible,” said Pippa. “When they told me ‘we’re doing this’, I thought they must be mad. But I also knew they were serious, and if they thought I could do this then I was going to do everything I could to get ready. I started a fitness program with a physiotherapist, and went to Weight Watchers to lose weight — I didn’t want people to get hernias carrying me around. But it was Kristina (Rody, Ollie’s partner in Whistler) who took the planning of the whole project on herself and made it happen.

“It was really the most extraordinary thing, the trip of a lifetime.”

The group was accompanied by three of Pippa’s friends, and seven other volunteers with a variety of skills and experiences. They also hired two lead guides, three assistant guides and two porters, mainly to carry Pippa’s gear — her wheelchair, a toilet that was modified by their guides, and her clothing. When the switchbacks were too steep for the TrailRider, the porters helped by carrying Pippa herself in a specially modified basket — one of the most frightening experiences on the trip, Pippa recalls.

“It’s one thing to be on the TrailRider and facing up the hill, and another to be in a basket looking over the edge to the river crashing below us,” she said.

There were several goals for the expedition. The main one was to help Pippa realize a dream she has held for more than 20 years. She and her husband had originally planned this trek in Nepal in 1986, but decided to leave it for another year when she landed the top administrator post at the National Ski Academy in Collingwood, Ontario. They had always planned to go in the future, but those plans were put on hold indefinitely when Pippa was diagnosed with MS, a degenerative disease that can severely affect mobility.