Lori Schneider stands on the slopes of Mount Everest in May. Schneider, a former Steamboat Springs teacher, traveled the world to climb the Seven Summits, the highest mountain on each continent, despite being diagnosed with Multiple Sclerosis 10 years ago. She summited Mount Everest on May 23, finishing her Seven Summits quest.

Lori Schneider/courtesy

Lori Schneider stands on the slopes of Mount Everest in May. Schneider, a former Steamboat Springs teacher, traveled the world to climb the Seven Summits, the highest mountain on each continent, despite being diagnosed with Multiple Sclerosis 10 years ago. She summited Mount Everest on May 23, finishing her Seven Summits quest.

Former teacher overcomes fears to capture Seven Summits

Lori Schneider, diagnosed with multiple sclerosis, conquers Everest

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Lori Schneider/courtesy

Lori Schneider was able to spend only a few minutes on top of the world's highest peak. She had to climb back down quickly to escape a looming storm.

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Lori Schneider/courtesy

Writing in her journal while on the slopes of Mount Everest, Lori Schneider wrote that she once was afraid of "attempting things I was uncertain of." But "hanging off the side of a wall made of ice," she wrote, she felt no fear.

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Lori Schneider/courtesy

Lori Schneider holds a World MS Day flag on the summit of Mount Everest. Schneider said learning she had MS helped motivate her to climb the highest peak on each continent, the Seven Summits.

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For more information about Lori Schneider, a former Steamboat Springs teacher, check out her Web site at www.empowermentth... adventure.com/

The site includes all her journals from her 16-year journey to climb the Seven Summits, details about her fight with MS and information about her speaking career.

— Search Google images for "Everest summit" and you'll find a few distant shots of a snowy peak and seemingly endless photos of bundled climbers raising their arms in victory, the never-nearer sun on their faces and a whole world spread behind them.

Lori Schneider said she didn't see all of that.

The summit of Mount Everest - the very tiptop - is a little bit of a flat spot.

"At the place that marks the absolute top there is a little shrine Sherpas have constructed, with yellow prayer flags and a little Buddha," Schneider said. "That marked the top, and it was drop-offs all the way around.

"It was all foggy. We couldn't see anything in the distance."

There, with a few final trembling steps, Schneider's run came to an end.

It was more than a run, actually. It was a flight, one that she started 10 years earlier. Diagnosed with multiple sclerosis while teaching first grade at Soda Creek Elementary School, Schneider, who then went by Lori Whitehead, said she ran. She ran away from her home and her friends, from a job she loved and a town she adored.

Ten years later, she took the final step of that run onto the summit of Mount Everest.

A numbness sets in

It started one morning when Schneider said she woke up with numbness.

She had previously been diagnosed with MS, a disease that attacks the central nervous system and can disrupt the communication between nerve cells.

"I remember Jan. 4, 1999," she said. "I had numbness on half of my body.

"That really pushed me to accelerate my idea of climbing the Seven Summits."

Climbing the Seven Summits, the tallest mountain on each of the world's continents, wasn't always Schneider's dream.

It was a dream of her father, Neal Schneider, and together, father and daughter knocked off the first of the seven in 1993. They climbed the 19,311-foot Mount Kilimanjaro.

He roped her into attacking a second of the seven, and the pair was making final preparations for Aconcagua, South America's highest peak at 22,841 feet, when she learned about her MS.

While she said she was too fearful to let any of her Steamboat friends in on the secret, she summoned the courage to climb the mountain.

Neal Schneider was forced to stop short of the summit, but Lori Schneider pressed on and conquered the Andean beast. She did so without clueing any of her fellow climbers in about her disease.

"I worry that my father is going down with altitude sickness. Dad worries that his daughter is going ahead with MS," she recorded in her journal Dec. 27, 1999, three days before the final climb. "No one here knows that I have it. I want to be judged by my personal strength and not by my label of this illness."

That attitude was different once she was back to Steamboat. She quietly moved out of town, convinced she needed to be closer to her family in Wisconsin.

"I just panicked and ran away from my life," she said. "I left a 20-year teaching career and a 22-year marriage, my community and friends and moved back to the security of my family."

Eyeing summits

While everyday life continued to frighten Lori Schneider, mountains didn't. Her interest grew even as her father withdrew from climbing.

She climbed Russia's Mount Elbrus, Europe's highest peak at 18,540 feet, in 2002.

She added Denali, the 20,320-foot monster in Alaska, in 2006, and in 2008, she surged toward the finish, taking out a large loan to finance the effort.

She first knocked off the 7,308-foot Mount Kosciuszko in Australia.

"It was supposed to be a walk in the park, but when I got there and started to climb, we had one of the worst snowstorms Australia has ever had," she said. "We turned back, then two days later it was a walk in the park."

Next she traveled to Antarctica for Vinson Massif, a frozen 16,067-foot peak.

"It was an incredible climb. The first time we tried it was 45 below and 45 mile per hour winds, and we turned back 200 feet from the summit," she said. "We went back the next day, no wind and (minus) 25. It almost felt balmy."

Finally, in May, she traveled to Nepal for an assault on Mount Everest, where only 30 percent of attempts are successful.

"There are many things in life that once scared me : being alone, being broke or attempting things I was uncertain of. Now at 52, I am all of those things at once," she wrote in her journal. "I am here on this mountaintop in Nepal with no family to comfort me, $80K in the hole, hanging off the side of a wall made of ice, asking myself, 'Am I afraid?' Oddly, the answer is no."

The only view

Lori Schneider reached the peak of the world's tallest mountain at 8:39 a.m. May 23.

The fear that guided her move from Steamboat to her new home, now in the tiny Lake Superior town of Bayfield, Wis., left her somewhere in her mountaineering journey.

She still fancies herself a teacher, though the method has changed and now she tries to inspire children and adults by speaking about the hurdles she's overcome.

Her MS has yet to derail any of her dreams. With a titanic one out of the way, she has come up with others.

"In the summer of 2011 I'm trying to get a group of people who have MS to take to Kilimanjaro," she said. "I want to give them a chance to experience the power I feel when I climb and to give them that confidence that they can have a physical life, even with MS."

That was a sensation Schneider said she never felt more clearly than as she stood on a small flat spot, flags whipping in the wind and the clouds of an incoming storm obscuring the view from the top of the world.

"I couldn't see a thing around me," she recalled. "So it was a time for me to look inward and, really, what I realized was that I'd come a long way from that scared woman diagnosed with MS 10 years (ago). I felt like I'd come so far, building physical strength, but also my mental strength.

"Being at the top of the mountain was an amazing experience, even though my only view was inward."

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