Everest climber Lori Schneider earns triumphal parade in Bayfield
First person with MS to scale Everest welcomed home
Ashland Daily Press
Published: Wednesday, June 10, 2009

When Lori Schneider was 15, she was bitten by the wanderlust bug — her goal was to one day walk the seven continents and "experience the people, culture and heartbeat of a foreign land."

A special education teacher for 20 years, Schneider traveled whenever she could, climbing Africa's Mount Kilimanjaro with her father on his 61st birthday.

However, in 1999, she awoke one day to find half her body numb, and then found she was suffering from multiple sclerosis.  For many people, the diagnosis would have meant the end of an active life. But for Schneider, it meant a redoubling of her determination and the advent of a new goal: To not just walk the seven continents of the earth, but to climb their seven highest peaks. It was an effort of will not to give in to the disease, and to empower herself through a seemingly impossible challenge that few mountaineering enthusiasts have ever achieved and no one with MS has ever before even attempted.

Peak after peak, Schneider defied the predictions of the naysayers: Aconcagua, the highest peak in South America, in 2000; Mt. Elbrus in Russia in 2002; Denali in Alaska in 2006; Mt. Kosciuszko in Australia and Antarctica’s Vinson Massif in 2008.

Spectators on the parade route honoring Bayfield resident Lori Schneider wave Prayer Flags and American Flags as the Everest climber passed in an open car. Schneider was also honored by a commendation from Wisconsin Governor Jim Doyle and a designation of Tuesday as Lori Schneider Day in Bayfield. Rick Olivo/Staff Photo

Finally, only one peak in her quest of the seven summits was left. The big one, Mt. Everest, the roof of the world.

In May, she became one of a select handful of humanity to reach the top of the sacred mountain of Nepal, the highest point on earth. Schneider is also the first and only person with MS to reach the summit, and the first to complete the seven summits challenge.

Her triumph of the human spirit was celebrated in Bayfield Tuesday as much of Bayfield's population turned out for a parade down the community's main street of Rittenhouse Avenue.

"Half the town must be out here," said one banner-waving onlooker.

"Yeah, and the other half is marching in the parade," said her companion.

The crowd followed the parade down to the lakefront pavilion, where Schneider was the focus of proclamations honoring her from the city of Bayfield and Governor Jim Doyle.

Bayfield Mayor Larry MacDonald said Schneider's efforts proved her courage.

"Her ability to conquer the seven summits and deal with her MS has given the entire world an opportunity to learn how we can persevere and challenge ourselves," he said in reading the proclamations.

Those who took part in the parade also celebrated her.

"I love Lori, and I am so proud of her, " said Nancy Gardner of Minneapolis and Bayfield, who paraded wearing a cardboard cutout on her head representing Mount Kosciuszko. "She inspires me and we are out here to celebrate her victory."

Jim Collins of Bayfield said he had a special reason to be inspired by Schneider's example.

"Lori is kind of my hero. I was diagnosed with MS last fall and what she did is quite an accomplishment for anybody, climbing seven mountains. When I get tired I just think, ‘Oh, it wouldn't bother Lori a bit.’ She's a great role model, I'm really happy for her."

For her part, Schneider said she was amazed by the reception she has had in Bayfield since her return.

"This town has such loving, wonderful, compassionate charm; I am just honored to be a part of this society here," she said. "To be treated with such a warm and wonderful welcome is just special."

Schneider said she was one of the lucky people with MS; her condition was stable and allowed her to be extraordinarily active.

"Right now I am experiencing no symptoms and Everest was a joy. Every step I took, especially those hard ones toward the top, I thought of the people who have difficulty walking across the room with MS," she said. "I am one of the lucky ones and I am lucky to have made the summit, too."

Schneider said she was glad she could serve as an example.

"If you can teach people with MS or any other disability that sometimes you will have hard days and sometimes days will be OK, you can teach them not to give up hope, to keep trying," she said.

Schneider says now that she has achieved her goal of climbing the seven summits, her plans are to rest for a while and eventually to take others with MS on adventure trips.

"I'd like to give them back a little of their power," she said.