When the doctors diagnosed her, she thought she would have to give up her favorite pastime forever. But then she found the strength to continue.
GettyImages Briton Debbie North and her husband Andy were passionate about hiking in the mountains. Early in the morning on the weekend they got into the car, drove to the nearest mountains or even hills and met the sunrise there. This love was instilled in Debbie by her parents, and she, in turn, infected her husband and children with mountain hiking.
Working as a school teacher, she took her students to the mountains as well.
“There are sad statistics that say that children spend less time outside than at home. It's terrible, because fresh air and a sense of freedom are so important for children,” says Debbie.
This went on until ten years ago, doctors diagnosed the woman with a chronic degenerative condition of the spine. At 47, she learned that she would be confined to a wheelchair.
The first symptoms appeared in early 2008: Debbie felt pain in her back when walking, as if someone had put heavy books on her head. Walking became more and more difficult, and she went for an MRI.
Debbie was shocked when she received her test results. The doctors said that she had the spine of an 80-year-old man: the intervertebral discs were so “aged”. As a result, the musculoskeletal system experienced severe overload, which affected the mobility in the legs.
Debbie had surgery and titanium rods were inserted into her spine, but she was unable to walk again. Hiking in the mountains is over for her.
"I was in the dark. After a couple of years I returned to work, but every day I took a cocktail of drugs to cope with the pain, and this affected the brain. I quickly got tired, felt weak, made stupid mistakes - and it was not at all like me,”says the woman.
Her husband Andy also stopped hiking, not wanting to do it without his wife. But one day he thought that a short walk might cheer her up - and took her to the mountains for the weekend.
"I remember in the parking lot watching people change into hiking boots and go into the mountains, and it was just awful. It was like I was left behind, unable to join,” Debbie recalls.
In 2011, she retired for he alth reasons. Out of work, Debbie started blogging. The first entry in it read: “Yesterday I was the head of an elementary school, and today who am I? I used to go hiking, but now I can’t.” In response, she received comments from people who also lost the ability to walk: it's time to stop depression and start acting.
And Debbie obeyed. She chose a wheelchair accessible route first.
"My electric chair had a hard time. Even though the road was flat, there were rocks and gravel, and Andy kept clearing them away so I could get through. This pushed me to explore off-road wheelchairs.”
In the end, Debbie found a company that specializes in the production of such strollers. In 2015, she was finally able to go on a real hike again and conquered Mount Skiddo, about 930 m above sea level.
At the top, Debbie couldn't hold back her tears as she thought she'd never be able to see the world from the top of the mountain again.
Now her main goal is to raise funds for an off-road wheelchair for the Yorkshire Dales National Park to be rented by the disabled.