Belfast Telegraph

Nurse to battle fear of heights by climbing Ben Nevis at night in gran's memory

By Victoria Leonard

A Northern Ireland nurse with a crippling fear of heights is to climb the UK's highest mountain in the dark in memory of her late grandmother, who suffered from Alzheimer's disease.

Larne Mum Michelle Mawhinney (37), who does not even like being upstairs in her own home, is aiming to scale 4,411ft Ben Nevis in July in honour of Rose.

After witnessing first-hand the effects of the cruel disease, Michelle vowed to face her fears as part of the Midnight Challenge in aid of the Alzheimer's Society.

She will join a team of 16 fundraisers who will navigate the peak's rocky, steep terrain by torchlight in a six-hour night-time climb, reaching the summit as dawn breaks.

"This challenge is my way of pushing myself out of my comfort zone," Michelle told this newspaper

"I think that I will be okay going up, but coming down is the problem.

"I have gone up Slemish to practise as part of the strengthening and conditioning training, but then when I turned around to see the view I just froze - and Slemish is a lot smaller than Ben Nevis.

"My fear of heights started during GCSE PE, when we were out in the Antrim Glens at the top of a hill and there was a sheer drop which we had to stretch to get over.

"I just froze and from then on it has just gotten out of hand.

"When I was a student at the City Hospital in the tower block, I couldn't even look out the window and I had to take the stairs instead of going up in the lift.

"Every time it was a windy day, I imagined that the tower block was swinging in the breeze. But just because something is hard isn't a reason not to do it. If it doesn't challenge you, it doesn't change you.

"I'm eager to get to the top and raise money for the Alzheimer's Society."

Despite her nerves, Michelle is drawing strength from the memory of her beloved grandmother and is hoping that the funds she raises will ensure that other families do not have to face the same heartache.

"We first realised my grandmother had Alzheimer's disease when she was 60," she explained.

"Up until my grandfather died, she had seemed to be healthy. Very quickly we realised she had started to be forgetful and that our grandfather had been taking care of her, so the disease probably started when she was in her late 50s.

"Our family is quite close, but it got to the point where she didn't recognise any of us, which was heartbreaking.

"We tried to take care of her as long as we could, but eventually she had to go into a home.

"Very occasionally, she would have a lucid moment where she would realise she was in a home and ask me where she was. She would have flashbacks of her previous life.

"In the end, my uncle, Sammy, ended up in the home too as he was diagnosed with Alzheimer's, and they didn't know each other. They were in the same room and there was no recognition.

"I always wanted to do something in my granny's memory, and when I saw that a team at my gym were going to do the challenge for the Alzheimer's Society, I had to get involved."

Michelle's chosen method of fundraising has been met with support, and some surprise, from her family.

"My Dad thinks it's hilarious - he knows I will do it, but that I will whinge the whole way," she said.

"My 10 year-old daughter, Alex, is very excited. She keeps telling everybody that her mummy is climbing a mountain.

"As with everything in my life, when something is difficult or challenging, I see it as more of a reason to overcome (it)."

To sponsor or make a donation to Michelle's Ben Nevis mountain climb in aid of the Alzheimer's Society, visit her fundraising page on www.justgiving.com.

Belfast Telegraph

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