By Patricia McAdams, Staff Writer, Nevus Outreach
To climb Mount Kilimanjaro virtually with Jodi, starting October 2, please visit Caring Matters Now and click on the Charity Climb Blog.
The Kilimanjaro girls.
Jodi and her dad.
LIVERPOOL, ENGLAND: Until she was 16, in 1996, Jodi Unsworth thought she was the only person in the world with a giant congenital melanocytic nevus (CMN). It was then, however, that she met pediatric dermatologist David Atherton, MD, of the Great Ormond Street Hospital, in London. Atherton was the leading CMN skin specialist in the UK and it was he who first gave a name to the rare skin condition Unsworth had been born with and told her she was not alone.
Knowing there were others like herself changed everything for Unsworth. At the urging of Atherton, she started a nation-wide support group called Caring Matters Now to help raise awareness and support for children and adults with CMN.
Caring Matters Now has since been instrumental not only in raising awareness about CMN and organizing regional family days so folks can get to know one another, but also in raising many of the dollars for nevus research at the Great Ormond Street Hospital.
This year, Unsworth’s passion for raising money clicked into high gear with her announcement that she would climb Mount Kilimanjaro on October 2, with about 19 other friends and family members in a further fund raising effort. Unsworth says the roots of this idea come from a popular TV show in the UK called Comic Relief.
"A lot of famous people — particularly comedians — undertake different kinds of fund raising projects that are televised in the UK on a program called Comic Relief. Comic Relief is an annual fundraising campaign, which raises money for various aid-relief projects across the world. Viewers can watch the show and donate money, which goes to people who are less fortunate than we are.
"During the 2010 Comic Relief campaign we learned about 20 famous UK celebrities, who had climbed Mount Kilimanjaro. Interestingly, some of these celebrities were not at all fit — and yet they made it to the top of the mountain. And I thought — we could do that too!"
So Unsworth proposed the idea at the next trustee's meeting for Caring Matters Now and, before long, the climb took on a life of its own. Unsworth called Charity Challenge — the organization that had managed the celebrity climb for Comic Relief, and learned that they needed 16 people to organize a personal trip for Caring Matters Now. Before long they had 20 climbers, each of whom committed to raising at least £2,000 (US $3,190) for their small charity. Collectively, the team's goal is to raise at least £30,000 (US $48,400) for CMN research.
Organizing the climb
While the climbers initiated various efforts to raise money, mostly through Facebook, Charity Challenge booked flights and organized everything else. They gave the climbers a list of all the things they needed to bring in the way of clothing, hiking boots, and other incidentals. And they listed other things like sleeping bags and walking poles that the climbers could either buy or rent from Charity Challenge, when they got to the mountain.
"Charity Challenges provides a UK guide, along with a doctor and three porters for each trekker," says Unsworth. "The porters help carry the big bags, set up our tents, and cook dinner — so we will be well looked after, which is good, because that's what we will need."
Each trekker has chosen from three different payment options on offer by Charity Challenge, depending on their own ability to fundraise versus what they can afford to contribute themselves to the cost. Each trekker has committed to raising approximately £2,000 for Caring Matters Now.
Mount Kilimanjaro is the highest mountain in Africa at 19,341 feet and the highest “walkable” mountain in the world. And while experts say that climbers are unlikely to fall off the side, they caution nonetheless that this is a rigorous, demanding climb through five distinct climate zones. The main obstacles are the cold, high winds, and altitude sickness, in particular, which prevents as many as one in three climbers from reaching the summit.
While some climbers hire personal trainers to help them prepare for a climb, Unsworth designed her own training schedule.
"The church I attend in Liverpool, just started a ladies' running club and we actually start at my house, so I can't get out of it," she says, laughing. "We run about three miles, once a week. Then I ran the 10-kilometer (5.4 miles) race in Liverpool recently and finished in one hour, three seconds. And then, on my doorstep, really, there are quite a few mountains. I had never climbed a mountain before I committed to climb Mount Kilimanjaro, but now when I have a free weekend, I go climbing with my dad and my sister Mia — who are both climbing Mount Kilimanjaro with me."
In addition, Unsworth and her friends went on a climbing weekend in Wales recently that was run by Expedition Wise, where they climbed two mountains to help prepare for Mount Kilimanjaro. Their guide had climbed Mount Kilimanjaro 15 times and suggested countless practical tips they never would have thought of before. Importantly, he provided medical advice to help them cope with altitude sickness.
Trekking up a mountain
"The first thing our guide kept saying was that we needed to drink four liters (roughly a gallon) of water a day to reduce the likelihood of getting headaches and generally feeling unwell because of the high altitudes. To me, because I'm small, that's an awful lot of water!
"He said we needed to walk very slowly, too. He explained that the slower you walk, the more your body will adjust to the altitude.
“We did this pace when we climbed the mountain on the Saturday of our climb,” says Unsworth. “In fact, we walked so slowly, we almost felt as though we were walking backwards.”
While there are more than a half dozen routes to the summit of Mount Kilimanjaro, Unsworth will be taking the Lemosho Route. This route was chosen because it is a slow walk, allowing seven days to reach the summit, thereby lowering the risk of getting ill. The walk down the mountain is only two days.
Reaching the summit
"The last day will be the toughest, but also the most rewarding. On Day Six, we stop climbing mid day and rest all afternoon.
“And then on Day Seven, we start climbing at midnight, walking through the night, and reaching the summit as the sun rises. I think that's going to be amazing.
"As my dad says, we've climbed a lot of mountains since I was born, but this is probably the biggest one of them all.
"I can honestly say that I am thankful that I have CMN, because now I have this opportunity to support children and other adults with CMN,” says Unsworth. “Hopefully, this challenge will make a big difference long term in supporting our members."
If you want to support the team and pay by credit card, please visit the Just Giving page (shown below). Donations need to be shown in British Pounds. http://www.justgiving.com/teams/cmn/
To determine the exchange rate between US Dollars and British Pounds, you can go to Yahoo Finance at: http://finance.yahoo.com/currency-converter/#from=USD;to=EUR;amt=1
Or: You can do a bank transfer to Caring Matters Now – International Account No. GB27 CPBK 0892 9965 2533 68 - Identification Code. CPBK GB22.
If you wish information about how to organize your own Charity Climb, you can contact Chad Anderson, Business Development Manager, at Charity Challenge, at: eat1@eau1eav1eaw1. Because of the level of fitness required, it is likely too late for anyone else to trek up Mount Kilimanjaro with Unsworth and her team. Anderson says that participants typically sign up more than three months in advance of a challenge. On the other hand, a closer sign up is not unheard of. Place on the team would be subject to availability of flights, accommodations, and other considerations. Contact Anderson for further details.