“The whole trip is a dream come true,” she said, referring to her coming trip as a Mount Kilimanjaro companion climber. “I always wanted to go to Africa. When it looked like it was possible, I got excited. The hike will be amazing. … It’s really exciting to be able to do this. I hope we can make it.”
The Tracy woman is one of 14 companion climbers who will help 10 multiple sclerosis and four Parkinson’s patients up Kilimanjaro on July 12. Sanchez’s partner is 28-year-old Stephanie Ludlow, of Oregon, who has multiple sclerosis.
“It really is a very difficult mountain, very underrated,” said Lori Schneider, Kilimanjaro trip organizer, who was diagnosed with multiple sclerosis in 1999. “It will be very difficult, but it will be so rewarding. Our goal isn’t to have everyone stand on the summit — our goal is to get them to do more than they thought they could do, push themselves a little bit further.”
Schneider said she was impressed when Sanchez contacted her to inquire about the climb after she posted it on her Facebook page. Sanchez’s spirit of giving, she said, will help the other climbers have the courage to go on.
“It’s going to be amazing,” Schneider said. “We’re just so lucky to have her (Paula). She will add so much to it. She’s enthusiastic, and she has a wonderful spirit of adventure. She’s not afraid to try. She wanted to help, and without those partners, we couldn’t do it.”
“Paula is one of the ones who have a big heart,” she added, “coming along due to their energy and enthusiasm ... to help someone achieve their dream.”
To prepare for the climb, Sanchez has been hiking on Mission Peak, Del Valle, Mount Tamalpais and Mount Diablo, as well as weight training in the gym five or six days a week.
“I want to get to the top,” she said. “I hope it works.”
An avid fundraiser and advocate for multiple sclerosis, Sanchez first got involved in fighting the disease with the National Multiple Sclerosis Society’s annual 50-mile Challenge Walk nearly a decade ago. Her walking partner, Tracy resident Colleen Brown, first asked her to be a sponsor in 2000, and Sanchez has been hooked ever since.
“It’s such an incredible event,” Sanchez said. “A sense of community — 250 to 350 walkers — you really feel like you have new friends working toward one goal. They want to eradicate this.”
Brown said the walk, which aims to raise $1.7 million for research this year, is life-changing.
“After the first year, I walked away thinking there is nothing I can’t do,” said Brown, who was diagnosed with multiple sclerosis more than a decade ago.
“I think the thing that strikes me the most, I do know it (the Challenge Walk) is making a difference,” she added. “A diagnosis today, than 18 years ago, is very different. Eighteen years ago, there were no treatments, and today, there are number of different options — not a cure, but medications that slow the progression of the disease and lessen the flare-ups.
“It’s a good feeling knowing the money that I raised, and the team raised, has gone to research and development.”
Schneider said events such as the 50-mile walk and the Kilimanjaro climb are important, because they give other multiple sclerosis patients role models who are fighting to achieve their dreams.
“My goal is to try and remind people not to be afraid of MS,” she said. “It’s OK to challenge it. Pushing the boundaries gives them hope to possibly try things they didn’t think were possible before. That’s what we’re doing.”
Sanchez said she hopes someday that fundraising and awareness events will be a thing of the past, because a cure has been found.
“I hope for a cure, so we can go on vacation rather than the walk,” she said. “It’s a wonderful event, but we’d like it to go away.”
The 10th anniversary of the three-day, 50-mile Challenge Walk starts Sept. 23 in San Diego.
• In the Spotlight is an occasional feature in Our Town highlighting the people who make Tracy and Mountain House special. Nominate someone by e-mailing email@example.com.