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Featured Everest Expedition: Team Everest '03

Snowy Trail   Photo by Erich Schlegel / The Dallas Morning NewsNamaste, Dhal bhat and Happy momos!

It has now been two and a half weeks since we left the US, and over a year and a half since we began our work to make Team Everest '03 and all that it stands for happen. We are now in Gorak Shep at an altitude of 17,000ft, just 3-4 hours from our goal. We are definitely feeling the effects of altitude and the time we have been on the trail. Most folks are not aware that only 1 in 10 people ever reach the base camp of Mount Everest. And here we are just a few hours away with 28 of the 29 members who began this historic expedition.

When living above 14,000 feet, basic tasks become demanding on one's physical and mental abilities. We have a wide range of people holding their own in this harsh environment, pushing through the challenges that confront us on an hourly basis, be it accessibility (which in the high Himalaya is not even a word), health and GI issues, headaches, broken wheelchairs, nausea, lack of appetite, fatigue and on and on.

As we ascended from Pheriche to Tuglar, feeling the effects of the increasing altitude, and reached the small village Lobuche at the foot of the Khumbu Glacier, basic survival kicks in as eating, staying hydrated and performing simple tasks have become increasingly more difficult - it doesn't matter if you are able bodied or have a disability. We have been able to overcome all of these physical and emotional challenges because we are communicating and working effectively as a team to get us through each day.

Dinesh summits Kala Pattar at 18,000ft    Photo by Erich Schlegel / The Dallas Morning NewsWe are from Texas, North Carolina, Ohio, Canada, Australia, Nepal, Chicago, Massachusetts and Colorado, and represents all walks of life, demographics, age, sex and disability. Though we all met in LA as individuals, we arrived in Kathmandu, Nepal as a team with a common goal.

In terms of weather, we have seen extreme temperature fluctuations ranging from scorching, intense high altitude heat raising the mercury to 100 plus degrees in your tent with the sun burning any exposed skin. Then, in the same hour, we have seen snowstorms with 4 inches of snow, clouds, wind and a temperature drop to well below freezing, conditions which test the patience of the most determined individuals!

Today we had an acclimatization day, which included a hike to the summit of Kala Pattar at approximately 18,000ft. I was just informed as I write this dispatch that Dinesh summitted and is now safely back in camp.

Gary Scott and I give nightly pep talks and inspirational stories from our years of experience in these extreme conditions, along with the evening advice of our medical guru, Dr. Janis Tupesis. These talks help us keep focused and centered on our goal to reach base camp of Mount Everest.

Our Sherpa team has inspired us in ways that can only come from such a beautiful culture. They shared some of their folk songs and dances with us last night. And much to the delight of many, something rare occurred - Gary "Didi" Christine Kane dances with Sherpa   Photo by Erich Schlegel / The Dallas Morning NewsGuller Sherpa danced at 17,000ft. Walking outside to catch my breath, I heard Christine Kane being recruited - "Curly curly" and "Didi didi" (meaning "Sister") - for the next dance. An evening full of smiles and laughter in such extreme conditions shows yet again the power of this expedition.

We thank you for all your support emails that we read nightly to keep our spirits alive. We also appreciate your continued financial support that allows expeditions like Team Everest '03 to happen in the first place, pushing the boundaries and inspiring millions.

We are off to Everest Base Camp tomorrow morning to make history. Gary Guller Expedition Leader  

Shannon Ardoin's memorial    Photo by Erich Schlegel / The Dallas Morning News'She made us whole': Flower Mound girl recalled on plain a world away
By Lee Hancock / The Dallas Morning News

LOBUCHE, Nepal – Shannon Ardoin never walked, spoke or saw the world around her, but her struggles taught even strangers profound lessons about life, compassion and community.

A Texas-based group of people with disabilities honored the Flower Mound girl and her family’s unending devotion by erecting a stone memorial on the glacial high plain lined with stone chortens, or pillars, built for the fallen heroes of Mount Everest.

“It would’ve been very easy for her parents to put her in an institution. They chose to keep her at home,” said team leader Gary Guller of Austin. “They recognized that her life had meaning and worth and dignity.

“Her life represents the true meaning behind Team Everest 03, from my point of view: the freedom for anybody to live in the community of their choice,” he said.

The group’s Tuesday memorial service arose from a chance meeting between Shannon’s father, Ken Ardoin, a governmental affairs director for Pfizer Inc., and the head of the Austin-based group sponsoring the Team Everest 03 Challenge Trek, the Coalition for Texans With Disabilities.

Coalition director Dennis Borel said he was introduced to Mr. Ardoin earlier this year and told him about the Team Everest 03 Challenge Trek, now within two days of bringing nine Americans and two Sherpas with disabilities to the world’s highest mountain.

The group is traveling to Everest to shake misconceptions about the Vince reads from  Shannon's memorial book    Photo by Erich Schlegel / The Dallas Morning Newspotential of the disabled. After they get to Everest’s base camp, Mr. Guller and three U.S. and Canadian climbers will try to reach the mountain’s summit. If successful, Mr. Guller would be the first person with one arm to stand atop Everest.

Meeting with Mr. Borel, Mr. Ardoin talked about Shannon, his youngest daughter, who died last April at age 17 after a lifelong struggle with a brain condition that left her unable to move, speak or communicate other than by crying.

Touched by Shannon’s story and her family’s decision to keep her integral in their lives, Mr. Borel arranged a meeting between the pharmaceuticals executive and Mr. Guller. He and Mr. Guller proposed honoring Shannon during Team Everest 03’s journey to Mount Everest.

Precious cargo

Mr. Ardoin and his wife, Annette, sent the group some of their daughter’s belongings: a lacy sampler with her name cross-stitched in pink that was given to her at her birth, and a rosary from her godmother made from pressed rose petals and blessed by the pope.

The group carried them up one of the most difficult stretches of the trek - a steep, rocky hill formed by the terminal moraine of the Khumbu glacier, the giant ice floe cascading from Everest.

At the hill’s crest, near a chorten honoring a famed Sherpa climber who reached the summit of Everest more than any other person and died on the mountain in 2001, some of the group’s Sherpa guides and one of its climbers stacked flat rocks on a high boulder.

Prayer flags and kata     Photo by Erich Schlegel / The Dallas Morning NewsWhen the stones stood 4 feet high, they topped them with a center stone and covered that with Shannon’s needlepoint sampler, her rosary and a yellow silk kata - a ceremonial scarf given by Buddhists in the Everest region to show respect.

Members of the challenge trek stood silently, overlooking some of the world’s highest peaks, as they listened to one of their members read an essay written by Shannon’s family. Part of a memorial booklet of poems and photos, it described her as an angel who touched all who encountered her.

Sherpas burned juniper, used in their Buddhist ceremonies, and a Sherpa lama traveling with the group chanted Buddhist prayers.

Team members wept as Mr. Guller closed the service with a message from Shannon’s family in her memorial booklet.

“In her brokenness, she made us whole. Her suffering crushed us beyond words,” Mr. Guller read, tears streaking his cheeks. “Yet it strengthened us beyond imagination. She taught us more than anyone else has ever been able to do. No book, no speech, no person could convey in a thousand words what she gave us in her silence.”

Team members said they were particularly touched because the organization sponsoring their trek is fighting a pitched battle to maintain state funding in Texas to help people like Shannon live in communities.

Courage to fight

Team member Gene Rodgers of Austin is among an estimated 62,000 people who could lose such assistance if the Legislature approves cuts proposed for community services for the disabled.

Mr. Rodgers, unable to move below his neck since being paralyzed in a fall from a cliff at 17, said the cuts would leave him without attendants who help him to and from bed and dress and feed him daily.

Team member Mark Ezzell of Raleigh, N.C., said such cuts are among the constant battles facing people with disabilities.

Gary at Shannon's memorial   Photo by Erich Schlegel / The Dallas Morning News“It’s a damned shame that we have to fight so hard to keep the things that other people take for granted,” said Mr. Ezzell, who was born with spina bifida and is a lobbyist for the North Carolina governor’s crime commission.

“The best way we can honor the memory of Shannon is to create more Shannons - to create a situation where all people, regardless of ability or disability, can live at home, with their families, in their communities.”

Mrs. Ardoin said her family had to wait five years to get into one Texas community assistance program and seven years for another.

She said the programs gave nursing care and other services, easing the burden of caring for Shannon and allowing the Ardoins and their other three children time for things other families take for granted - things as simple as going out together for dinner.

“I can remember writing letters to the Legislature begging them to increase funds so I could get on one of these programs,” she said. Such programs “made all the difference in the world.”

Mrs. Ardoin said her daughter attended the local high school, becoming a favorite of the students, and was beloved by her siblings’ friends. Football players would visit her at the family’s home the night before games and they once presented her with a homecoming mum.

“These children have a mission here on earth, I truly believe that,” Mrs. Ardoin said.

“Shannon touched people like you wouldn’t believe,” she said. “She was caught in this body that couldn’t tell us anything other than to cry. She was a fighter like you wouldn’t believe. I had to sense her every feeling just through a spiritual sense.”

Mrs. Ardoin said she was touched almost beyond words knowing that Shannon was honored by a group such as the Team Everest 03 group in the world’s highest place.

Memorial site    Photo by Erich Schlegel / The Dallas Morning NewsShannon loved being outdoors, Mrs. Ardoin said, so “I think she absolutely would like that place. That’s her chance to be someplace she never could have gone on her own,” she said. “To me, it’s just a miracle that her things are being placed there. It’s so spiritual, Shannon being a part of this still.” Pictures copyright Erich Schlegel / The Dallas Morning News

Gary Guller, veteran expedition leader, Everest climbers, author and motivational speaker. To book Gary


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