Connie Gabrielle is climbing a mountain to raise funds for Alzheimer’s research.
“In January I will be climbing Kilimanjaro, the highest free standing mountain in the world and the highest peak in Africa, to raise funds and awareness for Alzheimer and dementia,” said Gabrielle.
Connie and her husband Trent live in Brooks, Alta., but their roots are in Virden where parents Don and Colette Gonty and Larry and Barb Gabrielle reside. She explains her passion for this cause.
“My Dad was diagnosed just over five years ago, in his early 60s. I have been blown away by the lack of treatment for this terrible disease. On the positive side I have also been blown away by the support the Alzheimer Society of Manitoba has provided to both my parents.”
It’s a disease that is becoming all too common. According to information on the Alzheimer Society of Manitoba website, Alzheimer’s and other forms of dementia afflict over 23,000 Manitobans. Fifty-six per cent of Manitobans are impacted by dementia because they have a family member or close personal friend with the disease.
“This is not what I wish for my parents’ retirement,” says Gabrielle. “We recently had to make the incredibly tough decision to place Dad in full-time care in Elkhorn (Elkwood Manor). There is heartbreak, there is frustration, there is anger, there is humor, there is defeat and there is hope.
“When you look into Dad's eyes you can see that he is lost and this is something that no one should have to experience.”
Gabrielle, in her stout-hearted, humble manner says, “But this just reminds me that we need to live the best life we can, don't wait to share your kindness or go on that trip, or climb that mountain. Each day is a gift, not our right.”
Gabrielle, a wife and mother of three small children works with Alberta Healthy Living where she is involved in exercise programming.
In 2015 she took on a similar fundraising adventure, a 100 km trek across the Sahara Desert in support of the Canadian Diabetes Association. She chose to support that charity because of family members, including Trent’s father, who were living with diabetes. Through fundraising in Alberta, and generosity from their home community of Virden, Gabrielle raised over $7,000 for that charity.
A fundraiser for Alzheimer’s was also on her mind. “I've been planning this venture since the day I returned from Morocco (Sahara),” she says.
Following the birth of her third child, Gabrielle scheduled her trek to take place before she returns to work from an 18-month maternity leave.
Mt. Kilimanjaro is an eight-day, 65 km hike. Including arrival and departure, the adventure begins Jan. 23, and ends Feb.1. Gabrielle has been in training for this hike that will take her through five different ecosystems: rainforest, heather, moorland, alpine desert and glacial terrain.
This July she completed a 24 km leg of an endurance race, the Sinister 7 Ultra, in the very mountainous Crowsnest Pass.
“The weather was pretty wild. It rained and hailed and the course was full of mud, so I've had some endurance training in extreme conditions. Leading up to that event I spent time hiking and jogging in the Cypress Hills and Rockies.”
She will continue to focus on endurance each week with a short and a long run every week plus two strength training sessions. Closer to the climb, Gabrielle will go on multi-day runs.
While the actual climb is a bit of an unknown, she says, “I think the biggest challenge for climbing Kilimanjaro will be the altitude. This is not something you can really prepare for.
“You can summit Kilimanjaro in a shorter time than eight days but we are taking a longer route to allow time to move slowly and prevent altitude sickness.”
Approaching the summit, she says, “We climb through the night and don't stay at the peak height long in order to also prevent issues due to altitude. So, fingers crossed my body handles the altitude well.”
She’s planning to arrive in Tanzania two days early to fit in an African safari and to get her body used to the nine-hour time difference before it’s time to climb.
Her goal is to raise a $6,500 donation for the Manitoba Alzheimer Society. She is partnering again with Charity Challenge. https://www.charitychallenge.ca/expedition.html?id=2167.It is the Kilimanjaro Summit Climb - Lemosho Route: Mountain Trek challenge to Tanzania
Gabrielle is thrilled to have already raised 86 per cent of that goal, so far. “Every dollar I pass over to the Alzheimer Society of Manitoba feels like a piece of hope.”
She hopes the Virden community will again join her in fundraising for research and support for victims and their families. For more information and to make a donation go to https://alzheimer.mb.ca/event/connies-climb/