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Blind woman from Harrow climbs Mount Kilimanjaro to raise money for Parkinson's UK
A Harrow resident has braved the heights of Mount Kilimanjaro for charity, despite being totally blind.
Linda Gaitskell, 56, of Maryatt Avenue, lost her sight at the age of 19 after suffering from glaucoma.
The keen runner is no stranger to endurance events, having already completed the London Marathon, as well as 10k events.
This relentlessly active sportswoman also enjoys skiing, sailing and windsurfing.
She said: “I love a challenge. Once I get something in my head, I have to do it. I won’t be stopped! That’s how I decided to climb Kilimanjaro.”
Mount Kilimanjaro is the highest free-standing mountain in Africa, standing at around 19,340 feet.
Tenacious climbers have to endure farmland, forest, and Alpine moorland.
Ms Gaitskell undertook the laborious task to raise money for Parkinson’s UK, after she lost her close friend, Peter Flanagan, to the disease two years ago.
She describes Mr Flanagan as her “inspiration”, as he helped to ignite her passion for active pursuits.
The challenge junkie’s disability threatened to prevent her from taking this exciting trip, as no British travel agency agreed to accept her.
Luckily, after searching online, she got in contact with Debra Bouwer, owner of the South African travel agency Nomadic Adventures, who encouraged her to persevere.
She said: “Debra has been so supportive. She told me: having a vision is not about sight, but about commitment to a goal and the desire to achieve.”
Ms Gaitskell received an enormous amount of support from her personal trainer, Frank Neascey, who has been working with her for around five years.
She said: “I can’t thank him enough. Without his help, I wouldn’t have been able to achieve what I have.”
The exercise addict set off with her friend, fellow mountaineer Peter Roberts, on Sunday, September 9, arriving back in the UK on Wednesday, September 19.
The twosome trekked for eight days along the Rongai Route, along with their guide, Colman Temba, and seven porters.
Mr Roberts, 61, of Hampshire, said: “Because of Linda’s condition, this hike required a great deal of concentration and physical exertion for her, but her sheer will and determination kept her going.”
He added: “'I am proud to have played a part in helping Linda achieve her goal and hope that it will inspire others to achieve their dreams, whatever their capabilities or disability.”
Ms Gaitskell said: “The hardest part of this eight day trek was definitely the summit day. We walked for around 9 hours.
“Just before we got to the top, I wanted to shout and scream with excitement, but once we’d got there, it felt really strange.
“I wasn’t just climbing for myself – I was climbing for Peter, for Frank, for Debra, for everyone. I had sight of the gold certificate in my mind, and that’s what kept me going.”
She laughingly added: “I’d do it all again! None of my friends have agreed to go with me yet, though.”
To date, she has raised around £2,200 for Parkinson's UK.
Ms Gaitskell will trek along Hadrian’s Wall in a few weeks, after taking some time to recover, and is arranging a ski trip in America.
She also told The Harrow Times that she hopes to climb Everest one day.