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Always a mountain to climb, says Ison

By Chip Drago
Mobile Bay Times
After years of working with the deaf and blind, then getting elected to the state House of Representatives and learning the legislative ways of Montgomery, state Rep. Jamie Ison knows there is always another mountain to climb. Sometimes literally.

Later this summer, Mrs. Ison will join her friend, motivational speaker Erik Weihenmayer and the blind mountain climber’s entourage in scaling the 19,300-foot Mount Kilimanjaro in Africa, long considered one of the most beautiful mountains in the entire world.

“It’s the biggest (physical) challenge I’ve decided to take on in a long, long time,” she said.

Earlier this year Weihenmayer  mentioned his Mount Kilimanjaro adventure. The possibility arose of Ms. Ison joining them. According to Ms. Ison, she told Weihenmayer not to invite her unless he meant it because she might very well accept.

Apparently, they were both serious because in less than three months they will be on a 29-hour flight to Africa.

Almost three years ago when Weihenmayer
stepped onto the top of the highest peak in
Australia, he joined an elite group of
mountaineers who have reached the summit
of each of the seven continents. Weihenmayer
is the first blind climber to reach the summit
of Mount Everest. His friends and fellow
climbers call him "Super Blind" — a tribute to
his remarkable climbing abilities and his refusal
to let blindness slow him down. Weihenmayer,
who lost his sight at age 13 as the result of a
degenerative eye disorder, is an accomplished
skydiver and skier as well as mountain climber.

The Mobile woman’s climbing experience for the most part has been limited to ascending Spring Hill.

However, Ms. Ison is in training, working
out twice a day and breaking in a pair of
hiking boots.

Her workout regiment includes four to six miles
walking and running in the mornings, afternoon
stints on the stairmaster and the treadmill and
swimming a mile in a pool. She’s searching for
nearby trails to use for practice and for breaking
in her heavy climbing boots, she said. Later this
summer, she will go to Colorado for a practice climb.

Mobile’s humidity may assist Ms. Ison in her
preparation, she said. The humidity here could mimic
the difficulties of breathing in the thin air at high altitude, she said.

“I’m really working on my stamina, but I have a long way to go,” she said.

According to Ms. Ison, Weihenmayer will lead a team that includes eight blind climbers from the U.S., a couple of blind climbers from Europe and about 10 sighted climbers.

“I’m really excited,” she said. “I’ve always wanted to go to Africa. It’s a big personal challenge to get in shape to do this.”

It will take seven days to reach the summit once the party begins its ascent, said Ms. Ison. According to their climbing schedule, she said, the most strenuous day happens to fall on her 52nd birthday.

She said she would leave Mobile in late August and return in mid-September.

Ms. Ison said she would go on a two-day safari once the climb is completed. The party will also visit a school for the blind at the base of Kilimanjaro where they will be expected to make a monetary contribution.

“Erik has hit the big time as a motivational speaker,” said Ms. Ison.

Weihenmayer uses his blindness and his mountain climbing achievements as metaphors for life in his speaking engagements.

To reduce and simplify his message: ‘All of us are “handicapped” in one way or another and all of us face challenges that we either meet and master or avoid and are mastered by.’

Ms. Ison was the regional director of the Alabama Institute for the Deaf and Blind for 17 years. She represents House District 101 in the Alabama Legislature.

Ms. Ison said she hopes to recruit sponsors for her climb in order to benefit local charities, perhaps Camp Rap-A-Hope which was conceived 20 years ago by the Medical Society and Medical Alliance of Mobile County. Camp Rap-A-Hope is a one-week summer camp for children and teenagers who are battling cancer or who have ever been diagnosed with cancer and who are 7 to 17 years of age.

“Given my background, working with blind people for many, many years, this is an incredible opportunity,” she said. “Erik has had such a positive influence on me and I’m really looking forward to this.”