A group of county women have set their sights on Africa’s tallest mountain as they look to raise vital funds for charity.
The team, named Sea to Summit, consists of Catherine McKinney, Sarah Gillanders, Jo Holmes, Penny Laurie-Pile, Alison Wilkie and Fee Andrews from North Berwick, and Laura Greig from Dunbar.
They are teaming up to take on an eight-day mission to climb Mount Kilimanjaro and raise money for Reverse Rett.
Rett Syndrome is a rare genetic neurological and developmental disorder that affects the way the brain develops. It causes a progressive loss of motor skills and language and predominantly affects girls, getting worse as they age.
Catherine, whose daughter Eliza, 12, was diagnosed with Rett Syndrome when she was three years old, told the Courier the impact this had had on the family.
She said: “She slowly lost the ability to talk, walk, wave, point, use her hands and communicate with us.
“She then developed epilepsy and had up to 10 seizures a day before this was controlled to some extent, but she still suffers from several seizures a week.
“Every year things get harder for her and we watch her deteriorate a little more.
“In 2020, she spent five weeks in hospital after both lungs collapsed and she ended up fighting for her life in A&E, and spent three weeks in intensive care on a ventilator.
“She had two operations and a long recovery after this but, due to her condition, she is always at risk of developing complications.”
The family have been active in raising awareness of the condition and funds ever since Eliza’s diagnosis, with Catherine’s husband Ross McKinney taking part in a mammoth row across the Atlantic to raise money for Reverse Rett.
Catherine was eager to complete her own challenge for Eliza, deciding on the Kilimanjaro climb as a perfect way to help in the fight against Rett syndrome.
She said: “I had always wanted to climb Mount Kilimanjaro – and raise money and awareness [for Reverse Rett]. This was my chance to do something after he [Ross] was away last year.
“I was going to do it by myself but we ended up having a group of seven of us! And they were all happy to raise money for Reverse Rett.”
The women have completed a series of fundraiser events, with about £8,000 raised already, and Catherine hopes to have doubled that amount by the time they have completed the climb.
The climb itself will take place at the start of October, and will involve eight nights of camping and a tough ascent, with only 49 per cent oxygen levels (compared to sea level) at the top.
The team have been putting in the training to prepare for the climb, taking on Ben Nevis and Snowdon as well as regular climbs up North Berwick Law.
But Catherine admitted the altitude, at 19,340ft, will play a major factor.
She said: “We are trying to get as fit as we can.
“Nothing can prepare you for that type of altitude. That feeling of being dizzy and sick. I have experienced altitude before but not like that.”
Catherine said she was looking forward to the challenge and that it felt “special” that her teammates were willing to support a cause so important to her family.
She said: “It is incredibly special that they were all not just willing but keen to support the charity.”
Catherine also stressed how important the local community had been to her family and Eliza over the years, sharing her gratitude for their continued support and donations.
She said: “The community have been really helpful and supportive – so many people have gotten behind the charity.”
Catherine admitted it would be tough to leave Eliza behind but knew that raising the money was hugely important in helping families affected by the condition.
She said: “The ultimate aim is that it will be treatable. Anything we can do to help is really important.”