During the 2015 APhA Institute on Alcoholism & Drug Dependencies in Salt Lake City, UT, attendees were given the choice to explore the gardens near campus or to climb a huge mountain visible from the dorms. Although all of the friends I met that weekend were choosing to climb the mountain, I would not be able to do the same. Living with Charcot-Marie Tooth Disease, a type of Muscular Dystrophy, I opted for the more practical decision—I would visit the gardens.
It would be much safer to leisurely stroll around and stop to smell the roses. I would not risk tripping on roots, sliding on the gravel, or rolling an ankle on a boulder by choosing the gardens. I was disappointed to miss out on the opportunity to bond with my new friends during this physical and spiritual activity, but it was not the first activity I had to pass on because of this disease. When we were discussing our plans, I told my friends that I would meet them for dinner after the climb. I asked them to take pictures for me when they reached the top. Most of them understood; however, two of them were not as complacent.
Student pharmacist attendees Brad Eckman and Cory Stewart told me I should come on the hike, and even offered to walk with me at my pace. I told them that it might not be that easy, and I might need some help, depending on the terrain. After hearing their encouragement and enthusiasm, I decided to give in.
I did not expect the climb to be so difficult. The elevation made breathing hard, the trail was rocky, and the incline was steeper than I had anticipated. Brad and Cory never once deterred from the original plan. As we climbed arm in arm up the mountain, I began to roll my ankles. My muscles grew tired from the boulders we climbed over. Several times, we were told to turn back because of ominous storm clouds, but we did not listen. We were determined to reach the summit, and when we did, the view was fantastic.
With shaking legs, I looked around at the city below us, awestruck. I could not believe they got me to the top. We took pictures, pointed out the tiny buildings of campus below us, gaped at the beauty of the setting sun and the darkening clouds, and felt the true accomplishment of climbing a real mountain. The celebration was short-lived, though, as the clouds began to thunder overhead. We linked arms again and started back in the direction we had come.
Although the climb up the mountain was difficult, I was not prepared for the descent. My legs were exhausted and I had no strength remaining to prevent my ankles from rolling. As I stumbled over the uneven ground, these men, strangers just a few days before, continued to guide me down the mountain.
Icy rain bit at our arms and faces. The cold made me shiver and caused my muscles to tense, making the trek even more difficult. The ground grew slippery with the rain, and we all had trouble keeping our balance on the rocks. Even when Brad and Cory’s footing began to slip, they made sure I was secure. When we finally made it down to the bottom, I realized it was not just the three of us stranded out there in the cold rain. Student mentors and leaders at the conference stayed with us to ensure our safe return.
I never would have been able to make that climb on my own, but together we did. The dedication and compassion shown by fellow student pharmacists that day was inspiring. Their kindness and patience during the climb will forever be my favorite memory of that summer.
When Brad and Cory convinced me to climb the mountain with them, I thought I would be more of an inconvenience than an inspiration. You do not have to carry someone up a mountain in Utah, but I want to challenge you to live up to 2016–17 APhA–ASP President Kelsea Gallegos’ theme of Together We Can. The togetherness required to build the profession of pharmacy starts with you. No matter how slow you move, or how much you struggle, keep moving forward. Do not be afraid to rely on your APhA family and the pharmacists that surround you. Together we can accomplish anything. And on that day, together we did.