RACINE - Lori Schneider put her mountain climbing poles on the ground and took one slow step after another Wednesday, trying to move despite whipping winds and the 60-pound pack on her back.
She used a rope to move herself a bit further and then stopped, not at the top of a mountain but in the gym at McKinley Middle School.
Schneider was demonstrating her climb to the top of Mt. Everest during an assembly for McKinley's sixth- through eighth-graders. Schneider, who has multiple sclerosis, was the first person with the disease to climb Everest and to climb the Seven Summits, the highest peaks on each of the world's seven continents.
She finished Everest, her final Seven Summits climb, in May 2009 and now travels the U.S. and Europe giving talks on how real life is a lot like climbing mountains because both require overcoming obstacles.
Schneider, 54, began climbing in her late 30s and was diagnosed with multiple sclerosis at age 43.
"It really scared me and changed my life," Schneider said of MS, a central nervous system disorder that can cause parts of the body to go numb or become paralyzed. "I really accelerated my climbing then because I thought I might not have use of my legs much longer."
Her legs held up; she has few MS symptoms today and was not largely affected by the disease during her climbs. Instead other obstacles got in her way.
While climbing Elbrus, Europe's highest peak, Schneider got word her mother had died. She canceled her climb but came back a month later, determined to finish. At the top she said a final good-bye to her mom.
"It felt close to heaven up there," said Schneider, of Bayfield, Wis.
While climbing Vinson, Antarctica's tallest mountain, Schneider's climbing group dwindled from four to two after two men quit because their supply sleds were too heavy and hard to pull. Schneider persevered physically and then mentally after the remaining group member, a guide, encouraged her to quit as well.
"He criticized me. He told me I was too slow," she said. "I lost faith in myself ... but I still tried."
Schneider finished the climb and learned how important it is to believe in yourself even when others don't, she told students, adding her many climbs have also taught her the importance of living your dreams and taking risks.
"You just have to get out there sometimes and dream big in your life and take the steps you need to make that happen," Schneider said. "Getting that courage and strength from within is what gets you to the summit of mountains and the summit of your life."
Schneider's talk at McKinley, 2340 Mohr Ave., kicked off an eight-day physical and academic competition in which grade-level teams of students will compete against each other in various events. The competition will conclude Sept. 24 with a fun run and walk led by Mayor John Dickert, said Stacy Tapp, Racine Unifed spokeswoman.