The WestStar Bank 24 Hours of Sunlight
If you can imagine what if feels like to hike up a ski run at 3 a.m. after having already climbed it six times that day, then you have an idea of what it feels like to have MS.
And that was the goal of the 24 Hours of Sunlight ” to spread awareness of multiple sclerosis.
For Mike Marolt, who created the event, climbing a mountain was the perfect symbol of coping with the disease.
He would know; Marolt is a member of one of Aspen’s best-known skiing families. His father was Max Marolt, Aspen’s first Olympian, and Mike and his twin brother, Steve, became the first Americans to ski from the death zone on Mt. Everest.
But when he needed a mountain to host the inaugural endurance race, he chose Sunlight Mountain Resort.
“It’s authentic. It’s real. It’s what skiing used to be when I was a kid,” he said.
WestStar Bank was the title sponsor of the event that began Feb. 10 with a gala at the Hotel Colorado featuring world-renowned climber Ed Viesturs, who gave a two-hour side show of his trials, travails and triumphs climbing all of the world’s 8000-meter peaks.
Viesturs compared climbing the world’s highest mountains to dealing with a life-changing obstacle like MS.
“We all have our own Annapurnas,” he said, speaking of his successful climb of the 10th highest mountain in the world. From his narrative, it appeared that some of the same rules of climbing apply to those who live with MS. “There is no easy way to climb some mountains,” Viesturs said.
Like when 300 feet feels like a mile, or when an overpowering sense of fatigue can stop you like a brick wall and you have to focus on simply being able to breathe and take the next step.
One of the keys, he said, “is having the patience to deal with everything the mountain throws at you.”
Susie Kincade, who works for the Jimmie Heuga Center in Edwards, said that an endurance race is a great metaphor for people with MS where every day is a marathon.
Olympic medalist Jimmie Heuga started the center in 1984, after he was diagnosed with MS at the height of his skiing career.
The center is a national nonprofit organization based in Edwards that dedicates its time to teaching people with MS to live a full life, focusing on what they can do, rather than what they cannot.
“This race is about heart,” said Laird Knight.
And if you ask any of the racers, it is also about legs, lungs, and sheer strength.
Knight explained that while most races are aerobic, the 24 Hours race combines aerobic and anaerobic exercise. After several runs up Sunlight’s Beaujolais ski run, race competitors will most likely feel many of the symptoms MS patients live with every day, such as extreme fatigue and the loss of muscle function, he said.
“We are able to conquer all the highest peaks on the planet, yet we haven’t been able to conquer MS,” Kincade said.
But people like Marolt and Viesturs make others believe that someday, we will all stand on the summit of the seemingly insurmountable mountain of MS.
Until then, there is the Heuga Center.
Until then, Marolt and the 24 Hours racers will hike up the same mountain for an entire day to help those who cannot.
“It’s near and dear to me to make a difference … to get out and help somebody,” Marolt said.
“This is the battle I chose to fight.”
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