I became sick with a rare disease called granulomatosis with polyangiitis at the age of 14, and from that point on, much of my life involved hearing what I couldn’t do. That’s because when the illness flares, my immune system attacks my vascular system. It inflames my blood vessels so blood cells can’t get the oxygen they need to function, potentially leading to organ failure.
Today, I have lowered heart function, altered capacity in my lungs, and a suppressed immune system. I had a kidney transplant about 14 years ago and have limited mobility from different surgeries.
Despite all those physical hurdles? I found a reprieve in backpacking. It became a way for me to experience challenge. I just have to go with other people in case of medical emergencies. I take medication every 12 hours for my organ transplant. So even if I’m going on only a five-mile hike, I have to consider the possibility of being stuck out there for a few days and pack extra pills, and I always let my crew know where they can find these things and when I need to take a break.
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Backpacking allows me to celebrate my body in different periods of mobility. At some point in your life, you will experience disability, whether it’s from simple aging or breaking a leg. And even if a disability is temporary, it changes how you move through the world and the needs you have. Some days, all my body can do is enjoy sitting by a lake, taking in nature. That is just as valid as, say, summiting peaks.
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Don’t let anything deter you! Tap into these orgs that make outdoor excursions more doable.
This article originally appeared in the July/August 2023 issue of Women’s Health.