Opinion

KATTERJOHN: Climbing mountains for Parkinson's

July 20, 2009

What is it about mountains?

People climb them because they’re there. People climb them because the experience is humbling and rewarding. People climb them because they represent a physical and mental challenge that, once met, is deeply satisfying.

Some people climb because of the camaraderie of doing it with friends, and some climb to feed their spirit.

For all those reasons, in 2003 I climbed Quandary Peak in Colorado, one of 54 mountains in the state that stand 14,000 feet or more—better known as 14-ers. Easy by a real mountaineer’s standards, it was one of the most exhausting feats of my athletic career.

I and my two friends returned to the Rockies the following year to climb two more, but the weather got so fierce at 13,500 feet we had to turn back and didn’t reach the summits.

In 1999 my boss, Mickey Maurer, climbed Africa’s highest peak, Mount Kilimanjaro, and two years later hiked a 31-mile trail over a 13,776-foot mountain to visit Machu Picchu, the Incan ruins in Peru.

But maybe our achievements weren’t so soaring.

In 1998, Larry Howald, general manager at Broad Ripple Heating and Cooling, was diagnosed with Parkinson’s disease. Over the next 10 years, he climbed all 54 of those 14-ers. Earlier this month, he climbed seven 14-ers in seven days.

Howald used his “Seven in Seven” adventure to launch a fund-raising effort for the Michael J. Fox Foundation for Parkinson’s Research. So far, he’s raised $22,000 toward his $100,000 goal.

Parkinson’s is a chronic and progressive disease of the brain that impairs motor control, speech and other functions, and it affects people differently. In some, the disease spreads slowly; in others, very quickly.

In Howald’s case, it has spread relatively slowly, a fact he attributes to his mountaineering and his daily physical training to prepare him in his quest to conquer “the next big one.”

“I experience all the notable symptoms, such as the ‘shaking’ of both hands, tremor in my left leg and muscle rigidity, but I refuse to allow this thing to stop me,” he says.

He’s also “strong as an ox,” according to Ace Yakey, an executive at Lilly Endowment Inc. and one of Howald’s regular mountaineering buddies.

Howald and Yakey are part of a core group of a half-dozen regular climbers that also includes Joe Lawson, formerly with Shiel Sexton Co. Inc.; Bob Meyer, a retired business owner; Dave Carter, president of Carter-Lee Lumber; and Andy Buroker, a partner with Krieg DeVault.

Among them, this group of professionals from the flat Midwest has climbed on the highest peaks of the world’s seven continents, and at least one member has reached the summit of six of them, including Mount Everest.

They are now using their collective love of climbing to further their pal Howald’s fund-raising efforts for Parkinson’s.

About six months ago, Yakey approached Howald about organizing a series of presentations about the seven summits: Everest (29,035 feet) in Asia; Kosciuszko (7,310 feet) in Australia; Vinson Massif (16,067 feet) in Antarctica; Elbrus (18,510 feet) in Europe; Kilimanjaro (19,340 feet) in Africa; McKinley (20,320 feet) in North America; and Aconcagua (22,841 feet) in South America.

The seven presentations, including breathtaking photographs and live commentary from at least one of the climbers, will begin Sept. 13, from 2-4 p.m. at Holliday Park, and continue on the next three Sundays.

Free to the public, the series provides the opportunity to see peak-climbing up close and personal through the eyes of a group of hometown boys.

It also offers the chance to support research to fight this debilitating disease. It would be a great experience for a worthy cause, and Howald and his friends have done all the legwork.•

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Katterjohn is publisher of IBJ. To comment on this column, send e-mail to ckatterjohn@ibj.com.

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