A Scottish wheelchair user from Edinburgh is hoping to be the first disabled person to climb Ben Nevis without any human assistance. Sally Hyder (47), who has multiple sclerosis and relies on her assistance dog Harmony as well as her family to help with everyday tasks, is determined to complete the challenge on Sunday 29 August to raise £10,000 for Canine Partners, the charity that trained Harmony.
Although Sally will not be relying on human aid to reach the summit, she will be helped by a special kind of “off road” wheelchair called a Boma, which is being loaned to her for the challenge by the company Molten Rock, and Harmony will be by her side giving her confidence. Sally is very mindful of the potential difficulties she may encounter on the expedition – she has been advised throughout by a professional mountain guide, who will accompany her, with his team. She has also taken advice from the guide and from Canine Partners’ veterinary advisor, to make sure that all precautionary measures are put in place to ensure Harmony’s welfare throughout the ascent and descent. In addition, several of the Charity’s trainers are accompanying Sally primarily to assist Harmony and to babysit her if at any stage it appears unsafe for her to continue to the very top. However, dogs ascend Ben Nevis day in, day out, so Sally has every expectation that Harmony will easily manage the expedition, particularly as she has been in special fitness training for some time now.
It is Sally’s strong bond with Harmony that gives her the confidence to make the attempt, and with Harmony at her side, she believes that anything is possible, as she explains: “Before I had this disabling condition I used to love climbing mountains especially the Munroes, and have even been on the flanks of Everest. Since having MS I thought my days of being on top of a Munro were over, until I received my lovely canine partner Harmony. While giving her free run exercise I found myself becoming more adventurous, and with that I rediscovered my spirit of adventure, going everywhere that I could with her. Then I was asked for a picture of Harmony and me somewhere iconic: what is more iconic than Britain’s highest mountain? From that thought my dream was born.”
Canine Partners trains dogs to assist people with disabilities to help with everyday tasks such as opening and shutting doors, unloading the washing machine, picking up dropped items, pressing buttons and switches and getting help in an emergency. The Charity aims to train dogs to meet the needs of people with even the most complex disabilities including members of HM Armed Forces.
These life transforming dogs also provide practical, physiological, psychological and social benefits including increased independence and confidence as well as increased motivation and self-esteem. It is exactly this independence and confidence that has allowed Sally to contemplate her huge challenge, and is inspiring her to raise the money for the Charity that trained the dog that changed her life.
“It will be tough and painful for me,” says Sally. “I will need to rest for days before and after. It will be physically challenging, and I am training hard; building my stamina, losing weight, getting medical advice and support. But it will be worth it. I will get up another Munro again, thanks to the Boma wheelchair and the life-changing effects of a dog called Harmony.”