IT was the thought of her late father which motivated Nicola Sirman to ‘just keep going’ on the summit of Mount Kilimanjaro.
Nicola was encouraged to work as a speech and language therapist after her father died from an unknown neurological condition, aged 52.
Seeing first-hand the way families suffer with Parkinson’s and Motor Neurone Disease prompted her to take on the huge fundraising challenge of climbing Mount Kilimanjaro – the highest mountain in Africa.
“I decided it would be a great opportunity to raise money for the two charities close to my heart,” said 32-year-old Nicola, from Chichester.
“I see the way these two life-limiting conditions can affect a person’s ability to walk, talk, eat and drink, things most of us take for granted every single day.
“There is currently no cure for either disease and treatment focuses on symptom relief and aiming to improve the quality of life of those people living with the condition and their loved ones.”
But Nicola said the trip, which she funded herself, was ‘so worth it’.
“I had the most amazing time.
“There were days when it was really tough. One of my friends have to go down because of the altitude sickness – that was a bad day.”
“We had some really crystal-clear days. It was beautiful. The views we got from the top were great – it’s lucky I’m not scared of heights.
Nicola set herself the challenge of climbing the mountain in seven days, giving her enough time to work to acclimatise to the altitude.
“The trick is to do it slowly and get used to the lack of oxygen.
“Even sleeping was difficult, one night I woke up in a panic because of a lack of oxygen. Your whole body has to get used to it.”
She said the people helping with the climb were an incredible support.
“They would cook the most amazing meals – sometimes three-course meals. Then you would go to sleep, wake up, set off, and they would pass you on the mountain with all the kit and have your tent set up for you in the evening.
“One minute you are walking along and you feel quite strong in mind and body and then the next minute, every limb weighs a ton and it is such an effort to move.”
Summit night was especially challenging for Nicola.
“You get there in the afternoon and start climbing again in the evening. You can’t sleep – but they get you up at 11pm for some porridge. Everyone starts to walk in the dark, all you can see are head torches bobbing in front of you.
“You are just trudging five-and-a-half hours and it is pitch black. Then you realise you are above the clouds and it is sunrise and it is amazing.
“Before we left I was tired and feeling quite low and I looked through some of the comments left on my fundraising page about my father and that really spurred me on and gave me a reason to keep going. The support from my family and friends has been amazing.”
After training long and hard for the challenge and battling through tiredness and altitude sickness, Nicola finally reached the peak of the mountain.
“When we came back down the mountain, we felt euphoric,” she said.
Nicola has raised nearly £2,500 for Parkinson’s UK and Motor Neurone Disease Association.
She is already planning her next charity challenge trip next year.
n To donate toward the cause, visit Nicola’s fundraising page