Climbing for a cause
by Staff Writer
by Hugh Fisher
Ineke Van der Meulen has seen a lot of sights since moving to the U.S. from Holland as a teenager. She hasn’t stopped traveling since.
“I’ve been to the pyramids, I’ve been on the Great Wall of China,” Van der Meulen said.
In September, she will face her next big challenge: climbing Mount Kilimanjaro, the tallest mountain in Africa.
The trek up the 19,000-foot mountain will take 72 to 96 hours between Sept. 10 and 15.
But that doesn’t worry Van der Meulen, though she’s admittedly not an avid mountain climber.
Van der Meulen will join 19 other climbers from area Rotary clubs. Macon Dunnagan Jr., of Charlotte, who, according to his blog, has reached the summit 20 times, will lead the climb.
Rotarians plan to raise more than $60,000 to help end polio worldwide.
“There’s no mountain too high to climb,” Van der Meulen said, when it comes to helping children in parts of the world who still suffer the crippling effects of polio.
Polio, also known as infantile paralysis, is all but forgotten in the U.S., thanks to vaccines developed in the 1950s.
Today only three nations in the world – Afghanistan, Pakistan and Nigeria – still suffer from widespread polio infections, reports the World Health Organization.
Eradication efforts led by the WHO, Rotary International and other groups have turned the tide. India was once one of the most severely afflicted nations. Today the country is almost polio-free, with no cases reported since January 2011.
Van der Meulen said she is climbing to help raise not only funds, but also awareness that this disease is still a threat.
“As long as the polio virus is still alive, polio is only one plane-ride away from returning to our country,” she said.
The climb is a personal goal for Van der Meulen.
“It’s one of the things on my bucket list,” she said.
She and climbing partner Bob Wilson have been climbing ridges around North Carolina, but her training regimen is about to shift into high gear. Van der Meulen will be working with her personal trainer three times a week.
“You’ve got to be in good shape, but it’s also the altitude,” she said. “That’s not something you can train for.”
The Kilimanjaro climb will be a steep uphill walk, but oxygen thins at those heights. Climbers can suffer from dangerous medical problems if they aren’t acclimated properly.
Her fundraising efforts are also building steadily. To try to reach as many people as possible, Van der Meulen said she plans to ask 300 people for $10 each.
That small amount, she said, may be enough to save the lives of several children. Since 2005, Van der Meulen has operated The World In Our Backyard, an educational program providing cultural instruction and experiences.
“I’m motivated,” Van der Meulen said. “I know I can do it. I’m not even going to say ‘I’m going to try.’ I will do it.”
Want to help?
North Carolina Rotarians’ climb to end polio: www.Rotary7680.org.