climbing for sight
- Categorized in: 7 Summits Blog
The 43-year-old mother from the Vancouver suburb of Delta, B.C., has a son with an incurable degenerative eye disease. She has devoted the last few years to running ultra-marathons - more than 42 kilometres, but often multi-day races of over 100 kilometres - and scaling the world's highest mountains to fundraise for charities that help the blind.
Her efforts have garnered the attention of Oprah Winfrey. Bastidas is featured in an upcoming Oprah Winfrey Network documentary hosted by actress Julia Roberts called Extraordinary Moms, alongside U.S. Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton and award-winning journalist Christiane Amanpour.
"I am just an ordinary person," says Bastidas. "I've just done some extraordinary things. There are a lot of women who are doing amazing things for their families, so I am just thrilled to be included."
Bastidas only began running a few years ago to cope with the stress of her son Karl's diagnosis of Cone-Rod Dystrophy, a genetic condition that often leads to blindness. There's no cure.
Karl, now 16, struggles to make out people's faces and wears sunglasses as his eyes are sensitive to light. He's learning braille.
Bastidas recalled her initial reaction to his diagnosis was despair.
"I couldn't sleep and I couldn't stop crying and I thought it wasn't fair," she said. "I needed to get up and out there for the kids. I joke it was either running or vodka. I had to find a positive outlet. To be able to help others was a way to cope."
First she ran a half-marathon, then a full marathon, then in 2007, she signed up for her first ultra-marathon, a 125-km race through Alberta to raise money for the Canadian National Institute for the Blind. Even with little experience, she made it 94 km before ending up hypothermic on a mountain top.
She was off and running.
In 2009, the then Calgary-based single mom launched her "777 Run For Sight" challenge - running seven ultra-marathons on seven continents in seven months. She ran through Brazilian jungles, over Namibian plains, across China's Gobi Desert, Australia's outback, the Swiss Alps, and even Antarctica, clocking 283 hours, covering 1,272 kilometres, losing six pounds off her 98-pound frame, and seven toenails, and burning through 14 shoes. She raised $150,000 for Operation Eyesight Universal, the CNIB and The Foundation Fighting Blindness.
"I am still the same mom who worries about her son," she wrote of her journey following her last race in the challenge, the 350-km Swiss Jura marathon, "but instead of feeling despair, I am now full of hope. . . . If I can accomplish something that seemed impossible just a few months ago, then is not difficult to imagine a cure for my son either. After all, this crazy quest started because a mom just wanted to show her kids that while things that seem unfair will happen, together we can overcome anything."
In 2010, she set an even higher goal: the "771 Climb For Sight" challenge - climbing seven of the world's highest mountain peaks in a year. She climbed Alaska's Mount McKinley that April and Mount Kilimanjaro in July. She made an attempt on South America's highest peak, Argentina's Aconcagua, but had to quit due to dehydration. The remaining summits are Antarctica's Vinson Massif, Asia's Everest, Europe's Elbrus and Indonesia's Carstenz Pyramid.
"People have always underestimated the power of will. Some people said to me, 'You're 98 pounds, you can't do this, are you kidding?' and I'm like, 'Watch me.' Mothers have always been like that."
The documentary airs in Canada on May 8 at 7 p.m. ET.
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