Why we’re climbing Mount Kilimanjaro for people with arthritis

Joanne Wilson and her family stood on top of a mountain.

This August, six members of the Wilson family will embark on the biggest challenge of their lives, to climb Mount Kilimanjaro in loving memory of their father and grandad, and to raise awareness of arthritis and the impact it can have on people’s lives.

We spoke to mum of five, Joanne, about her family’s motivations for fundraising with us.

Dad was a best friend and a huge inspiration to all of us

I’m an only child, and Dad and I grew up doing everything together. We had a very special bond.

I have three sons and two daughters, and Dad was like a surrogate father to them too. He would travel with each of them across the country following the sports and hobbies they loved.

He was an extremely active person and would always give everything his best shot. He ran the London marathon in just over 5 hours at the age of 66 and was still doing his best to keep up with games of football and cricket in the back garden well into his late 70s.

It was around this time that he began experiencing quite severe aches and pains in his joints. He wasn’t one to let on how much it was affecting him, and it wasn’t until the pain and loss of balance became too much that he finally visited a doctor. He was then diagnosed with rheumatoid arthritis.

Even then, he was determined to stay active. He pushed through the daily pain, determined not to let the condition define him, but things deteriorated quite quickly, and an unfortunate accident led to a broken hip, leaving him unable to walk.

It was very difficult to see Dad lose his independence

Less than a year after his accident, Dad contracted pneumonia and sepsis and we were told he had very little time left.

But a fighter to the end, he came home with me and spent his last six weeks surrounded by his loving family.

This was a very special time for all of us. Three of my children were on their university holidays and we spent hours reminiscing and enjoying some of the fantastic memories we had together. Dad made us promise to keep smiling, to talk of him with happiness and laughter, and most of all, to ensure we achieved all our greatest desires in life.

It was during conversation days before he left us, that the subject of Mount Kilimanjaro arose. A couple of us mentioned light heartedly that we’d love to have a go at climbing it one day, and Dad, having always had a love of hiking, conquering most of the Lakeland High Fells over the years, asked us to promise that we would do what we could to make it happen.

So, a year later we got it booked in and on the 19th August this year, six of us will embark on climbing the highest freestanding mountain in the world, with the aim of reaching the summit on 24th August 2019, to mark the second anniversary of Dad’s passing.

Training is well underway

As well as approaching a milestone birthday, I also have severe osteoarthritis in both knees, so the venture will be a little more challenging for me. Therefore, making sure I am at full strength for the climb is really important.

I’m doing a lot of work in the gym to build muscle and strengthen my knee joints and I have to say; I’ve never felt better than I do now.

We try to do big walks as a family at the weekends as often as possible too. In May, we all went to the Lake District doing two intense days of hiking, we’re climbing Snowdon in July, and me and my daughter take the dog for a long walk together every day.

I want to continue to fundraise after the big climb and am aiming to do the London Marathon walk in September, as well as organising some local things in the village.

People need to be more aware of the impact arthritis can have

We’ve learnt the hard way, but arthritis doesn’t just mean somebody has achy bones and bad knees, it’s a lot more than that.

My advice to other people would be:

  • Don’t dismiss it. Arthritis can be very limiting, impacting on people’s physical and mental wellbeing.
  • Be prepared. I had no idea that my Dad being diagnosed with rheumatoid arthritis would also mean that he would be more prone to other infections, that he might lose weight extremely rapidly, or have trouble swallowing.
  • Ask as many questions as you can and find out as much as possible, because arthritis is a lot more than stiff legs.
  • Listen to people when they tell you they have arthritis – it can be real battle and support is key.
  • Try to look at as many self-management options as you can.
  • Exercising and keeping mobile has certainly helped me and my Dad, both physically and mentally.

Find out more

If, like Joanne and her family, you’re interested in fundraising, you can find out more about the different options for fundraising with us. If you’d like to donate to this cause, you can visit the Wilson’s JustGiving page. And if you’re looking for support, we’re always here to help.