By Sophie Norris
The emotional moment a previously sporty Multiple Sclerosis sufferer scaled iconic Lake District Fells and received a family guard of honour has been caught in a heartwarming video.
Footage shows adventurous 49-year-old Fiona Searle break into a huge grin and wave regally as she wheeled her way through the eight-strong guard holding walking sticks in the air as she reached the summit of Sale Fell last Saturday.
The ‘emotional rollercoaster’ experience of reaching the peaks of three huge fells and scaling a total of 3,852 feet, using a £17k off-road wheelchair was incredibly special for the mum of two as she can only walk short distances with a walking stick and relies on a mobility scooter to go further afield.
Fiona, who scaled Binsey, Latrigg and Sale Fell, loved to get outdoors and regularly enjoyed long family treks in the countryside before being struck down with MS five years ago – a diagnosis which left her ‘grieving’ her previous life.
MS charity volunteer Fiona from Barton-upon-Humber, North Lincolnshire, said: “The whole day was an emotional rollercoaster. I got upset a few times because I would have liked to walk it, but it was amazing to get up there at all.
“Going from someone who’s active and had grown up outdoors, to being diagnosed with MS five years ago was a real shock. It took me a long time to accept it.
“MS nurses talk about it being a grieving process because you change from the person that you were and suddenly you find yourself unable to do things you used to. You’re not the same person anymore.
“I am able to walk with a walking stick and I’m taking medication to help but that isn’t funded by the NHS and I don’t know how many more months I’ll be able to afford it.
“Being unable to get about like I used to is frustrating and very difficult psychologically, so to have the chance to get out in the outdoors again was an amazing opportunity.
“To climb three Wainwrights in a day, when I can’t walk to the local shops on my own, was such an achievement and I had great support from family and friends.”
The experience was made possible by charity Freedom Wizard, which provides all-terrain wheelchairs to thrill-seekers with disabilities. Fiona helped raise £1,000 in donations for the cause.
Fiona said: “When I came across Freedom Wizard I thought going out with them would be a fantastic opportunity, so I contacted them and confirmed the date for last weekend.
“They were so supportive and understanding of my condition. It was so wonderful being able to get out in the fresh air from a wellbeing point of view.
“They had to give me the odd push sometimes because some parts were really steep but the BOMA7 [wheelchair] is truly fantastic.
“My daughter came on Saturday with my niece, sisters and two friends from the brass band I play in.
“It was so lovely and a great feeling for them to be there with me. I know it was difficult for them to see me like that.
“They are all proud of me because I’m quite a determined and strong-willed person so still want to challenge myself.”
The non-profit organisation was founded 18 months ago by Allie Pennington and Jeanette Moore, and since then 118 disabled guests have reached the country’s highest summits using specialist battery-powered wheelchairs.
Co-founders Allie and Jeanette explained they want as many people as possible to experience the state-of-the-art equipment.
Two years ago Allie was left partially paralysed herself following surgery and bought a BOMA7 to help keep up her hobbies.
Miraculously, after a year of being wheelchair bound, she retrained her brain through neuro physiotherapy to walk again.
Realising others might not be lucky enough to afford the expensive BOMA7, which costs around £17,000, she set up Freedom Wizard to share the chair with those with a zest for life who wanted to continue challenging themselves.
Allie, 42, said: “Up until about a year ago I was in a wheelchair. I had leg surgery and unfortunately, one of my nerves was severed and it left me paralysed in my right leg.
“I’d always been an outdoors girl – kite surfing, mountain biking – so I struggled. I started looking up options but there was very little out there.
“I got myself a BOMA7 and as I learned to walk again, I decided to set up the charity so other people could benefit from it. This happened two years ago, and I was paralysed for close to a year. I had a lot of neuro physiotherapy to get where I am today.
“I set up the charity with Jeanette about a year ago.”
Since starting up with the BOMA7, Freedom Wizard have been able to purchase two other all-terrain chairs. The BOMA7 has previously accompanied the duo on treks up Ben Nevis and Snowdon.
Allie said: “We have the BOMA7 [an all-terrain wheelchair], which was our flagship chair, and two Trampers.
“We work through different societies for multiple sclerosis, motor neurone disease and cerebral palsy and are often recommended by people to their friends.
“In the past 18 months, we’ve taken out over 117 people and we’re often out around five days a week, it’s excellent.
“The youngest person we’ve taken out was 11 and the oldest 88. Not many 88 year olds can make it to the top of a mountain.
“The chairs are battery operated and will go at about 4mph which is a bit quicker than average walking pace. We walk at the side of the guests and will sometimes assist the chairs as we reach the top.
“I think being able to use the chairs and get up there is one of the main comforts people take away from the trips. They know that they have that ability to get up there.
“These chairs are £17,000 to buy brand new. Everybody wants one but very few people can afford them and that’s why we try to take out as many people as possible.”
WHAT IS MULTIPLE SCLEROSIS (MS)?
Multiple sclerosis (MS) is a condition which can affect the brain and/or spinal cord, causing a wide range of potential symptoms, including problems with vision, arm or leg movement, sensation or balance.
It’s a lifelong condition that can sometimes cause serious disability, although it can occasionally be mild. In many cases, it’s possible to treat symptoms. Average life expectancy is slightly reduced for people with MS.
It’s estimated that there are more than 100,000 people diagnosed with MS in the UK.
It’s most commonly diagnosed in people in their 20s and 30s, although it can develop at any age. It’s about two to three times more common in women than men.
SYMPTOMS OF MS
The symptoms of MS vary widely from person to person and can affect any part of the body.
The main symptoms include:
Vision problems, such as blurred vision
Problems controlling the bladder
Numbness or tingling in different parts of the body
Muscle stiffness and spasms
Problems with balance and co-ordination
Problems with thinking, learning and planning